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LocalLit book review: 'On The Great Wall' by Penny Peng

Last week I read an article on the value of "deep reading" and how it's a skill some people are losing.

By deep reading, the author meant reading books, fiction or non-fiction, that feature people with whom the reader cannot relate.

It's faddish these days to for readers to "care about the characters" or relate to them on a personal level. But the world is full of people with whom we cannot relate. It's also full of people who are difficult to love.

"On the Great Wall" by Penny Peng is was one of those "deep reads" for me. The main character is from a culture that's unfamiliar to me. The book takes place during a time and an ideology (Cultural Revolution) that's very removed from me.

So how did I end up with this book? Peng, who grew up in China, temporarily lived in the United States, Joliet specifically, when she attended the College of St. Francis (now University of St. Francis).

Peng had contacted The Herald-News in 2004 when the book was published and I was asked to talk to her and write a story for The Herald-News about her time in Joliet.

"On the Great Wall" tested me in so many ways that I'm recommending it to you today.

Although the book is a memoir, it has all the elements of a great novel. It takes the reader to four countries (United States, Germany, China, England). The reader will see the village life in Hunan and learn folk tales and proverbs.

As the back cover states, the reader will become immersed in love, honor, power, justice scientific quest and a glimpse into the early days of China's space program (Peng's husband Yao Tung-ping was one of China's top rocket scientists).

But these concepts will be presented in ways that may be difficult for western minds to comprehend.

You'll encounter crushing cruelty (Peng's husband was Yao Tongbin was beaten to death outside their home by a mob) and decisions the author makes that made me think long and hard.

You'll encounter a love so deep and dedicated it surpasses just about anything, even death.

Here is the Amazon description for "On the Great Wall:" "A story of love and adventure in China, this gripping account tells of the dramatic return to China of a top rocket scientist and a young woman educated in America on the eve of the Cultural Revolution."

Buy "An the Great Wall" on Amazon.

Know more about LocalLit

Each week LocalLit will deliver an original short and family-friendly story (or a book review) by a local author to the newsletter's subscribers. Authors with a connection to our readership area may submit.  Submission does not guarantee acceptance.

To submit and for more information, contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-280-4122

To sign up for the free LocalLit newsletter and read the book review on Tuesday, visit

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