Review: Aftershock by Zhang Ling

by Joli
Published: Last Updated on
Aftershock book review

Aftershock is my second read by Zhang Ling and I was totally captivated by it. Read on for my review on how it compared to her other novel!

The Summary

In the summer of 1976, an earthquake swallows up the city of Tangshan, China. Among the hundreds of thousands of people scrambling for survival is a mother who makes an agonizing decision that irrevocably changes her life and the lives of her children. In that devastating split second, her seven-year-old daughter, Xiaodeng, is separated from her brother and the mother she loves and trusts. All Xiaodeng remembers of the fateful morning is betrayal.

Thirty years later, Xiaodeng is an acclaimed writer living in Canada with a caring husband and daughter. However, her newfound fame and success do little to cover the deep wounds that disrupt her life, time and again, and edge her toward a breaking point. Xiaodeng realizes the only path toward healing is to return to Tangshan, find her mother, and get closure.

Spanning three decades of the emotional and cultural aftershocks of disaster, Zhang Ling’s intimate epic explores the damage of guilt, the healing pull of family, and the hope of one woman who, after so many years, still longs to be saved.

My Review

First of all, it’s important to mention that the earthquake disaster featured in this novel is real. It was a 7.5 magnitude earthquake that decimated the city of Tangshan and left hundreds of thousands of people dead. The earthquake struck in the night when most people were sleeping, collapsing their homes on top of them.

So, as I read Aftershock (translated by Shelly Bryant, by the way), I felt like it really toed the line between a work of fiction and something that could have been quite real.

This is the story of a family that’s suddenly completely torn apart by an earthquake in the middle of the night. Twins Xiaoda and Xiaodeng are asleep when their home collapses on top of them. Their mother was outside when the disaster struck and, although she’s hurt, she’s able to come to the aid of her children with the help of a neighbor. However, the man can only save one of them, and the mother is put into the worst possible situation a mother could be in: choosing between her children.

Years pass. Xiaodeng is irrevocably marked by this one defining event of her childhood – in fact, she barely remembers anything from before the quake (she was 7 when it happened). She’s in therapy and struggles to connect with her husband and daughter, and make peace with her own mind.

Meanwhile, her twin brother, Xiaoda, lives such a completely different kind of life. He’s missing an arm from the quake and stumbles through life at first, figuring out his place in the world. He becomes a pretty strong character though, and I loved the way he supports his mother and the swaggering confidence he gains.

The entire story is really about the power of family connections, even when they’re violently torn apart. I found the whole story to just be beautiful and poignant, and I loved sitting down to read it. If you love sinking into family stories with a lot of grief but also a lot of beauty, definitely pick up Aftershock.

I did read Ling’s previous novel, Where Waters Meet. Although it was a great book, I have to say I enjoyed Aftershock a little bit more. In fact, I gave it 5 stars! | Amazon | Goodreads

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