Lost in the Long March

Written by Michael X. Wang
Review by Nick Wisseman

Lost in the Long March follows a family across the middle third of China’s 20th century. It’s a lovely example of bottom-up historical fiction. But the story could have been even better if it had done more to integrate the big-picture events it seeks to interrogate.

Part of the issue is a jumbled chronology. Wang cuts back and forth across the period he’s covering, jumping from the 1930s to the 1970s, then rewinding to the 1940s, then returning to the 1970s. The non-linear framework creates mystery, but it also glosses over key events that seem pertinent to Wang’s central message, which is a shame as the novel is hugely successful thematically.

The main characters all suffer personal losses during the March. One loses a leg. He also literally loses his way and nearly starves to death in the woods. A couple gives up their son so they can stay in the fight. The boy is robbed of a normal childhood.

Wang seems to be arguing that the Communists’ famous retreat began an ideological journey that took China decades to recover from, a trek that kept much of the nation in a disorienting, radicalized mindset. That fervor might have been necessary to stave off the Japanese, but the cost to further progress was high—and paid for far too long.

The symbolism is powerful; I’m glad I read to the end to see how Wang tied everything together. But even just a little extra context—and perhaps a less fragmented narrative—might have helped make Lost in the Long March more accessible to the wide audience it deserves.