Sentimental Education

At the height of the cultural Revolution, 12 million "young intellectuals"—teenagers who made the mistake of attending secondary school—were exiled to the Chinese hinterland. There the sons and daughters of the urban bourgeoisie were re-educated by the virtuous peasantry, chiefly through backbreaking manual labor. The victims had no idea if they would ever be allowed to go home again or if they would spend the rest of their days shoving an antique plow through country mud.

But even the bitterest of adolescences can turn sweet with the passage of time and the onslaught of nostalgia. Author and...

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