Book Review: Wish Lanterns

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Home > Articles > Book Review: Wish Lanterns

 Book Review: Wish Lanterns

Bertrand Leong | General
January 20, 2017
​A narrative tapestry artfully woven together, Wish Lanterns tells the stories of six young Chinese from China's "post-80s" generation.

DAHAI is a military child and a rebel; 'Fred' is a daughter of the Party. Lucifer is an aspiring superstar; Snail is a country migrant addicted to online gaming; Xiaoxiao is a hipster from the freezing north; and Mia a skinhead fashionista from Xinjiang in the far west. Born after Mao, they are natives of a nation on the rise—destined to have an unprecedented influence on global affairs.

In his debut book, author Mr Alec Ash helps readers transcend the language barrier and vicariously connect them with his characters. While unique in their own ways and unreflective of the many facets of young Chinese society; ethnic minorities; and the diaspora, the six young Chinese did not seem too different from young people elsewhere. Dislocated from their country's tumultuous past, and caught between tradition and modernity, I would think that their struggles of leaving home, starting a career, and falling in love should resonate with people everywhere—young and old. Offspring of the only child policy, they face fierce competition and pressures to succeed.

The author could have spoken about his interactions with them from a first person’s perspective. Preferring instead to exclude himself from the narrative proved to be the right decision, as he helps his characters tell their stories without interruption or intrusion. 

There is more to young people than society would normally give credit for. Wish Lanterns is arresting and beautifully written. Its pages, like windows, transport the reader to a different place—as though one were looking in and watching lives unfold before one’s very eyes.

​Mr Alec Ash is a writer and journalist in Beijing. He studied English literature at Oxford University. After graduating he taught in a Tibetan village in western China for a summer, before moving to Beijing in 2008. His articles have been published in The Economist, Prospect, Dissent and Foreign Policy among others. He is a correspondent for the Los Angeles Review of Books, and a contributing author to the book of reportage Chinese Characters.

Copyright © 2017 Singapore Institute of Management

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