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Interview with Jun Xu

How did you become a writer?

When I was young, my passion for reading and writing fueled a determination to become a writer. Unfortunately, the Cultural Revolution shattered my dream. In 1973, at 16, I graduated from high school only to be dispatched to the countryside for "Reeducation of intelligent youth," working 10 hours a day as a farmer. Mao's closure of colleges denied me any opportunity for further education. Frustration and discontent set in, leading to my being labeled a counter-revolutionary. I found myself standing before more than 300 people, subjected to the humiliating experience of "open critiques" with a large whiteboard hanging around my neck.

Fortunately, the tide turned when Hua Guofeng ended the Cultural Revolution, and Deng Xiaoping reopened colleges to the youth. However, a backlog of high school graduates over the past decade resulted in a surge of 5.7 million candidates taking the national college entrance examination in 1977, yielding a mere 4.74% acceptance rate. Despite being lucky to pass the examination, my counter-revolutionary status prevented me from pursuing higher education.

My misfortune continued in 1978, and a turning point arrived in 1979 when a government officer intervened to help me shed the counter-revolutionary label. This involvement paved the way for realizing my dream of attending college.

Following the nightmarish experience, I harbored a desire to share my story with the world. However, I soon recognized that challenging the system in China could once again brand me as a counter-revolutionary. Faced with this reality, I abandoned my dream and enrolled in medical school. Yet, my hands and mind never ceased their creative endeavors.


Upon relocating to the United States and undergoing residency training at New York Medical College, I became a practicing physician in Greenwich, CT. With a newfound sense of time, I seized the opportunity to write and publish two books on medical acupuncture and complete "GONE WITH WAR," a nonfiction novel.

What inspires you to write?

I have had a passion for writing since my high school years. Having experienced significant social upheavals such as the Cultural Revolution, Tiananmen Square, and 9/11 while navigating through both Chinese and American adult life, I've felt a constant drive to document history. Each day, as I engage with people, converse, read the news, and watch television, an irresistible urge prompts me to record events, attempting to discern the essence of history and capture the lessons it seeks to convey.

I penned a book about my life a decade ago, but I found myself dissatisfied with it, relegating it to my computer. Nevertheless, the desire to write persisted. Viewing my first book as a valuable trial in character development, plot construction, and language usage, I continued to yearn for more. Seven years ago, I encountered a lady, a real-life prototype of Anja, one of my patients residing in CT. Her family's story served as a wellspring of inspiration, compelling me to set it down on paper.

I believe that monumental historical events should be reflected through the lens of ordinary individuals like ourselves and our neighbors. Individuals caught in the throes of war resemble birds suddenly encountering a volcanic eruption. We strive to fly away, only to be engulfed by the relentless flames and lava.

How do you develop your plot and characters?

Based on a true story, the lives of two sisters, Anja and Hannah, took divergent paths after their separation at the onset of World War II. Anja found herself in Germany and the US, navigating the complexities of the war between Germany and the Allies. Meanwhile, Hannah embarked on a tumultuous journey in China, enduring the Sino-Japanese War, the Chinese Civil battles, the Cultural Revolution, etc.

Both sisters came across love amidst the chaos of wars, and their intertwined stories unfold naturally against the backdrop of historical events. The plots seamlessly unveiled the challenges they faced, and their characters evolved organically throughout history.

Could you share some of your challenges as a writer?

Time is the most challenging for me. I am busy with my practice and the founder of Africa Cries Out, a nonprofit organization with charitable activities in Senegal, West Africa. But I never stop writing.

I cannot string together a single sentence for my book when my brain is drained. In such moments, I set aside my pen and turn to the works of masterful writers. Their creations never fail to inspire me, guiding me to construct more refined sentences and choose better words. In their literary realms, I discover the fuel to craft superior plots.

Tell me about your protagonist. What's your favorite trait and/or weakness?

A gentle soul, Anja never resisted her destiny, aspiring for a better life, even willing to part with her first love. However, life dealt her an enduring blow when her initial love, Lucas, a Nazi soldier, took his own life.

In stark contrast, Hannah emerged as a resilient fighter against an unkind fate. After enduring hardship in China throughout her childhood and youth, she returned to Germany, determined to persist. Despite lacking a formal education, Hannah devoted herself to improving her children's lives.

Lucas, driven by a deep love for Anja, remained steadfast in his conviction that Germany should dominate the world. Dedicated to Hitler's cause, his unyielding beliefs remained unchanged. However, witnessing the defeated German people and the transformation of his beloved Anja into another man's wife crushed his spirit, leading him to take his own life.

Enter Ma Siyuan, a Chinese technician who loved Hannah unreservedly. Hannah and Ma Siyuan, having faced lives marked by adversity, naturally found solace in each other's company as they confronted the challenges that life presented.

How does your antagonist create conflict?

Lucas's love for Anja was undeniable; reciprocally, Anja chose Lucas. However, their path took a tragic turn when Lucas decided to abandon medical school and join the German army, which proved detrimental to their lives.

What are your current/future projects?

I am working on a book that explores the journey of a 16-year-old migrant who was smuggled into the US from China, eventually becoming entangled with a gang. Following a life-altering event involving the death of another individual, he finds himself incarcerated in New York State (NYS) prison, where he struggles to fight for his freedom.

Do you have a routine you follow when writing?

No, I take advantage of my free time. I can write anywhere: in my office, at home, on the train, etc.

If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would it be?

I still like to be a physician and writer. I realize that society does not support our writers; most writers have difficulty keeping their families. I have two professions that will help my family and make me worry-free as a writer. In the meantime, I have plenty of opportunities to meet my patients, understand their lives, and write down the stories they tell me. Therefore, I would like my fellow writers to keep a career that will maintain their families and keep writing.

I have the following suggestions,

1. Persevere and continue to write and read.

2. Craft a narrative around a typical family, reflecting the vast tapestry of history.

3. Embrace all positive or negative experiences and learn from them.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Choose a profession and meet as many people as possible, and write down what you hear daily.

Read more books, learn the writing course, and participate in writers' workshops.

Read every day and write consistently, never stop.

What is your preferred method for readers to get in touch with you?


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