This is not a spoiler: If you take a good look at the cover of the recent memoir Bend, Not Break: A Life in Two Worlds, you know the pages will deliver a happy ending … okay, if not happy, then certainly marked with all the signs of outward success. Author Ping Fu’s name is clearly annotated with “Founder and CEO of Geomagic, Inc.” At top right, the single blurb from Tony Hsieh – the founding CEO of Zappos.com, who authored the New York Times #1 bestseller Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose – makes his public declaration of support for Fu’s journey to “the top of the American tech world.” Turn to the back cover where further endorsements are many, from bestselling authors, publishing executives, and well-placed journalists. The book all but shouts, “Get your next great American success story here!”
No shortage of feel-good, do-good, against-all-odds survive-and-thrive true stories line the bookshelves in libraries and bookstores. Some are just okay, too many are predictable, but every so often, a few are stunners. Bend, Not Break falls in that last category. Think you’ve heard it all? Try just the first chapter of Fu’s story – three English phrases (“hello,” “thank you,” and “help”), a generous stranger, a kidnapping, two mothers, two fathers, a stolen childhood – and see just how far you get. I’ll confidently predict all the way to the final page. Written with clarity and purpose – choosing journalistic-like detachment over self-pity in the worst of times, allowing for open vulnerability and empathy in moments of achievement and joy – Bend, Not Break is a significant accomplishment befitting Fu’s extraordinary odyssey from privilege to deprivation to imprisonment to lasting freedom.
For the first eight years of her life, Fu grew up in a grand house, the adored youngest child to five older siblings in a well-educated, wealthy family. In 1966, the Cultural Revolution arrived in Shanghai – its sophisticated, international veneer no longer able to protect its cosmopolitan citizens from the onslaught of Chairman Mao’s less-than-equal communism. Wrenched from her family, Fu was sent alone to Nanjing, where she spent the next decade in room 202 of a Nanjing University dormitory.
She learned with great shock that she was not a pampered Shanghai last daughter. Instead, she was the firstborn of a couple she believed to be her aunt and uncle. She arrives in Nanjing just in time to see her birthparents forced away by the Red Guards for destinations unknown. With a desperate shout from the crowded truck, Fu’s Nanjing mother transfers total responsibility for the left-behind 4-year-old Fu thought was her cousin. Still so much a child herself, Fu becomes sole parent – nurturer and protector – to an even younger sister she never knew she had.
Marked as a “black element,” Fu is stripped of all rights for the crime of being born into an educated family. Endlessly, she is told she is less than nothing. She is ridiculed, dismissed, beaten, and forced to eat “bitter meals” made of dirt and animal dung. At age 10, when unspeakable horrific violence is perpetrated on her already deprived little body, she is labeled a “broken shoe,” an insult so severe she will not comprehend its heinous implications for years to come.
Fu survives, sustained by moments of unexpected kindness in a bewildering world of daily abuse and deprivation. An unknown generous soul leaves much-needed food outside her door. A faraway uncle visits, bringing with him unimaginable delights contained in forbidden Western novels. A first best friend – whose peasant roots make her an ideal citizen – risks her own safety by becoming Fu’s brave companion and outspoken champion. [...click here for more]