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A Communist in the Family
A Communist in the Family

A Communist in the Family

Searching for Rewi Alley


324 Pages, 6 x 9

Formats: Trade Paper, EPUB, Mobipocket, PDF

Trade Paper, $27.95 (US $27.95) (CA $37.95)

Publication Date: October 2019

ISBN 9781988531601

Rights: US & CA

Otago University Press (Oct 2019)


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A Communist in the Family: Searching for Rewi Alley is a beautifully written multi-layered narrative centred on New Zealander Rewi Alley and his part in the momentous political events of mid-twentieth-century China. Part-biography, part-travel journal, part-literary commentary, A Communist in the Family brings together Alley's story and that of his author cousin, Elspeth Sandys. In 2017, Sandys travelled to China with other family members to mark the ninetieth anniversary of Rewi's arrival in Shanghai in 1927. One strand of this book follows that journey and charts Sandys' impressions of modern China. Another tells the story of Rewi's early life, in an insightful meditation on the complex and always elusive relationship between memory and writing. By placing the man, Rewi, and his work in the context of his time, Sandys is able to illuminate the life of this extraordinary New Zealander in a way that is both historically vivid and relevant to the world of today. Her focus on the role poetry played in his life—both his own and that of the Chinese poets he translated so prolifically—provides moving glimpses of the man behind the myth. Threaded through A Communist in the Family are Sandys' evolving insights into a nation that looms ever larger in the day-to-day realities of New Zealand and the world. The strange—and strangely intimate—link between the two countries Rewi regarded as home is one in which he played, and continues to play, a crucial role.

Author Biography

Elspeth Sandys was born in New Zealand but moved to the UK in 1969. She has published nine novels (River Lines was longlisted for the Orange Prize in 1996), two collections of short stories (Standing in Line won the Elena Garro Pen International Prize in 2003) and has written extensively for the BBC and RNZ. She has also worked in film and TV. Her stage plays have been performed in the UK, the US and NZ. Elspeth's memoir What Lies Beneath was published in 2014. A sequel, Casting Off, followed in 2017. Her most recent novel, Obsession, was published in the same year. In 2019 A Communist in the Family: Searching for Rewi Alley was published to widespread acclaim. Part biography, part family memoir, part travelogue, the book follows the life and times of Rewi Alley of China, the author's cousin. Elspeth has held a number of literary fellowships and residencies, and in 2006 was awarded the ONZM for services to literature. She now lives in New Zealand.