Blame it on the women in his life.
Dean King, author of the just released Unbound: A True Story of War, Love and Survival, which chronicles the 30 women who participated in the Chinese Communist Army's famed Long March in 1934, has four sisters and four daughters. So writing a book about the courageous struggles of women in history was more or less expected of him.
"Having done Skeletons on the Zahara, which was about men shipwrecked on the west coast of Africa and following them through that survival situation ...it was a politic thing to [write about women in a similar situation]," he tells Hair Balls, laughing.
Unbound recounts the amazing journey that 30 women and 86,000 men took in an effort to escape Chaing Kai-shek's advancing soldiers. They covered some 4,000 miles in 370 days. Not only were they often under fire, the Tibetan mountains, Sahara desert, and miles of wilderness stood between them and their ultimate goal. Amazingly all 30 women who started the March were among the less than 10,000 marchers that survived the ordeal.
Threading the narratives of the women's individual stories, women's place in China at the time, and the progress of the March with an overall picture of modern Chinese history, King gives readers a unique look at a turning point for that country.
"What I do is take a historical adventure story and look at a culture. Everyone is interested in China right now, but as American's we're not really trained to have empathy for the Communists. The women provided a great opportunity to take a fresh look at [the Long March] and get beyond the polemics," he continues.
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King completed extensive research for the book. "This story did require a tremendous amount of research, more so than any other book I've done. I usually finish a book every two, two and a half years. This one took four and a half."
He took two trips to China, during which he was able to interview the last living woman survivor of the March (she has since died) and hike along the most dangerous part of the trail himself. He hired a Chinese journalist who had knowledge of the Long March. Many of the women marchers wrote short autobiographies about their experiences, but most had never been translated. The journalist was able to track those down and translate them for him which gave him new information.
The reaction to Unbound so far has been positive. During his readings to groups, King includes a slide-show of his visit to the Long March trail in China. "I think I'm able to transport them to a part of China people don't usually see. Through all this, I hope I'm a storyteller. I want to take people to a place where they open their minds to other cultures and a different reality, in a way."
Dean King will read from and discuss Unbound: A True Story of War, Love and Survival today at 7:30 p.m. Brazos Bookstore, 2421 Bissonnet. For information, call 713-523-0701 or visit www.brazosbookstore.com. Free.