Author: Wai Chim
Freedom Swimmer is based on a true story and aimed at an 11-14 year old audience, but I think there is a lot to attract audiences of a much wider demographic.
My history is patchy to say the least, it was never my strong suit at school and it really hasn’t gotten any better. I should probably know more about Mao’s China than I do and so I found it interesting reading to delve into that time through Chim’s writing.
Freedom Swimmer is the story of two Chinese boys from very different backgrounds and the unlikely friendship they forge when forced to toil alongside one another in the fields.
Ming is an outcast in his village even before the arrival of the youths from the Communist Party re-education program, it is rumoured that his father died in an attempt to make a freedom swim and that has tarnished Ming’s reputation in the village. He also lost his mother in the last famine and is all alone, my heart broke for this boy who was only eleven when he needed to take his deceased mother away because he was the only one left in the family.
Six years later the famine has passed but the village is still very poor and all of the villagers are working hard in the fields for minimal rations credits. When the city boys are bussed in they are looking fit, healthy and well fed – a sharp contrast to the villagers. The first night the city boys cook a meal like the village boys haven’t seen since before the famine. It highlights their difference as starkly as their appearances.
The months the two groups of boys spend living in close quarters show the contrasts, but also start to blur the differences. As each group of boys learn more about the other it changes their way of thinking a little.
We watch on as the villagers learn a little more about Mao’s philosophies and begin to memorise his teachings, while some of the city boys start to question Mao’s ideals and the treatment carried out in his name.
There are times in our lives that we all sit back and think we have it hard, well Freedom Swimmer is a great illustration of just how good we have it. I hate to think how bad things would have to be for someone to give serious consideration to swimming from Mainland China to Hong Kong, through shark infested waters that are patrolled by guards.
Freedom Swimmer tells a harrowing story of poverty, famine and communism in China, with back breaking work, suspicion on every corner and never knowing who to trust. It’s a story of the bonds of friendship that grow when everything seems lost and it’s the story of a determination to break the bonds of oppression and find freedom. I really enjoyed this book for it’s interesting characters and it’s spotlight on history.
Freedom Swimmer is book #44 for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2016
Thanks to Allen & Unwin 16 of our Beauty and Lace Club members will be reading Freedom Swimmer with their children so please be aware there may be spoilers in the comments below. I look forward to hearing what they think.