Chen, Da 1962–

views updated

Chen, Da 1962–


Born 1962, in Yellow Stone, China; immigrated to the United States; son of a teacher and a homemaker; married; wife's name Sunny; children: two. Education: Graduated from Beijing Language Institute (top honors) and Columbia University Law School.


Home—Hudson Valley, NY. Agent—Alex Glass and Robert Gottlieb, Trident Media Group, 41 Madison Ave., 36th Floor, New York, NY 10010.


Writer. Beijing Language Institute, Beijing, China, assistant professor; Rothschild, Inc., New York, NY investment banker. Guest appearances on various television shows.


New England Bookseller Association Discovery selection, BookSense '76 selection, Borders Original Voice selection, Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection and New York Public Library book list, all for Colors of the Mountain, American Library Association 2002 Best Books for Young Adults final nominee, New York Public Library book list and PBS TeacherSource recommended book for China's Son.



Colors of the Mountain, Random House (New York, NY), 1999.

China's Son: Growing up in the Cultural Revolution, Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 2001.

Sounds of the River: A Memoir, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.


Wandering Warrior, Laurel Leaf (New York, NY), 2004.

Brothers: A Novel, Shaye Areheart Books (New York, NY), 2006.


Da Chen worked laboriously to make his way out of a small rural village in China during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. As the descendent of a landowner, Chen was viewed as an outsider in his community. His family members were harassed and beaten. Despite Chen's high scores in school, he was discouraged by his teachers and thwarted from academic achievements. Colors of the Mountain captures this painful period in Chen's life in the form of a memoir. His second work, China's Son: Growing up in the Cultural Revolution, is a revamped version of his first book, this time geared to a younger audience. Sounds of the River: A Memoir follows Chen as he succeeds academically, obtains a full scholarship to Columbia University Law School, and immigrates to the United States to begin a new life.

Chen's accounts of his youth are not simply painful ones. He falls in with a group of hoodlums, and some of their antics, according to Atlantic Monthly contributor Phoebe-Lou Adams, "are downright funny." Some critics, such as Timothy Tung in New Leader, were more skeptical than enamored of Chen's descriptions of China in the 1970s. Tung felt the story had undergone an "Americanization" with its problematic descriptions of communist teens sporting the latest American fashions. The playground at Chen's school is divided between "the Mafia" and "the Wild West." How much of this is Chen's creative license, as opposed to a distorted sense of history is up for speculation, according to Tung. Despite such inconsistencies, Colors of the Mountain elicited an emotional response from readers. A Publishers Weekly reviewer predicted "Readers will cry along with this sad, funny boy who proves tough enough to make it, every step of the painful way."

Because China's Son is a book written with young readers in mind, Chen revised much of the language in his adult memoir, Colors of the Mountain. More historical situations were added for children unaware of the consequences of Mao Tse Tung's communist control of the People's Republic of China. At the same time, Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper noted that the narrative style can be "disjointed and confusing, and without a strong context."

Chen, after scoring in the top percentile of a national placement test, moved to Beijing to study English. This event became the basis for Sounds of the River, which was praised as "beautifully written" by Peggy Spitzer Christoff in her Library Journal review. Chen describes Beijing in the 1980s in a series of character sketches and anecdotes, mostly of the colorful people—including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar—he meets in this more cosmopolitan city. Comparing the book to Colors of the Mountain, a Kirkus Reviews critic called this follow up memoir "an equally beguiling sequel." "While the book isn't as constantly engaging and thoughtful as Colors," a Publishers Weekly contributor reported, "by its end … readers will already be looking forward to the next installment."

Chen next tried his hand at fiction, with the young adult novel Wandering Warrior. The story, which has since been optioned for film by Warner Brothers, follows a young boy with a royal destiny, whose kung fu training takes him on many adventures. Brothers: A Novel is Chen's first adult work of fiction and was selected to the "top of 2006" lists of a number of publications, including the Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, and Publishers Weekly. The story follows two half-brothers who grow up under disparate circumstances in mid-to late-twentieth-century China. Shento is the illegitimate son of a famous general; he is orphaned soon after birth and raised by a rural medicine man. Tan, as the general's legitimate son, spends much of his childhood leading a privileged life. Both sons achieve career success despite (or in spite of) the tragedies of their youth, with their parallel stories coming to a dramatic crossroads during the politically tumultuous 1990s. Washington Post writer Brigitte Weeks described Brothers as "a complex and brilliant novel that brings together a human story and an inhuman regime." She commented further: "Da Chen has achieved something that sounds simple but is, in fact, close to impossible: He brings the Western reader into the guts of the conflict, the agonies and the revelations of events that shook the world's largest population in the 35 years after 1960, when Shento and his brother were born." A Publishers Weekly reviewer agreed: "Chen's inventive and sprawling family saga eloquently recreates a time of enormous upheaval." In a review for Bookslut, Shaun Manning remarked: "Chen is both passionate and knowledgeable about his subject matter, as he displays an acute understanding of the politics and cultural influences of China's early Communist society."



Atlantic Monthly, March, 2000, Phoebe-Lou Adams, review of Colors of the Mountain, p. 116.

Booklist, July, 2001, Ilene Cooper, review of China's Son: Growing up in the Cultural Revolution, p. 1994; February 15, 2003, Todd Morning, review of Wandering Warrior, p. 1064; August 1, 2006, Allison Block, review of Brothers: A Novel, p. 38.

Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2001, review of Sounds of the River: A Memoir, p. 1658; July 1, 2006, review of Brothers, p. 645.

Kliatt, March 1, 2005, Claire Rosser, review of Wandering Warrior, p. 17; March 1, 2007, Sue Rosenzweig, review of Brothers, p. 44.

Library Journal, January, 2002, Peggy Spitzer Christoff, review of Sounds of the River, p. 116; July 1, 2006, Shirley N. Quan, review of Brothers, p. 64; March 1, 2007, Susan G. Baird, review of Brothers, p. 121.

New Leader, March, 2000, Timothy Tung, review of Colors of the Mountain, p. 38.

Newsweek, January 31, 2000, Yahlin Chang, "Up from the Ashes of Revolution: A Chinese Childhood Spurs a Dazzling Debut," p. 64.

Publishers Weekly, December 6, 1999, review of Colors of the Mountain, p. 59; May 1, 2000, review of Colors of the Mountain, p. 32; June 4, 2001, review of China's Son, p. 81; January 7, 2002, review of Sounds of the River, p. 57; December 16, 2002, review of Wandering Warrior, p. 68; May 29, 2006, review of Brothers, p. 33.

School Library Journal, August, 2001, Barbara Scotto, review of China's Son, p. 193; February 1, 2003, Margaret A. Chang, review of Wandering Warrior, p. 140; September 1, 2006, Teri Titus, review of Brothers, p. 246.

Washington Post, October 4, 2006, Brigitte Weeks, review of Brothers, p. C8.


Bookpage, (April 8, 2002), Alden Mudge, "Coming of Age during Mao's Cultural Revolution: A Talk with Da Chen."

Bookslut, (September, 2006), Shaun Manning, review of Brothers.

Da Chen Home Page, (July 3, 2007).