Searching for Billie: A Journalist’s Quest To Understand His Mother’s Past Leads Him To Discover a Vanished China

Blacksmith. Mar. 2024. 320p. ISBN 9789887554660. pap. $17.95. HIST
Journalist Gill, conceived in a Japanese prison camp, recounts the story of Billie Newman, his Chinese mother. He uncovers and documents her turbulent past in pre-World War II and pre-Communist China. In this deeply personal account, he discovers her remarkable journey from an adopted child—raised as British too, she considered herself to be Eurasian—to an adult working and socializing in the milieu of tycoons, diplomats, journalists, intellectuals, United Nations officials, and many others in 1930s and 1940s China. His book paints a fascinating picture of middle and upper-class life in Hong Kong, Singapore, Nanjing, Manilla, Wellington, and what is now called Chongqing. In addition to researching historical records to unravel his mother’s life story and her English roots, he visited China with her and called on some of her friends and acquaintances. Physical distance and past conflicts had significantly damaged his relationship with his mother, but his book shows that their travels together and his learning much more about her changed both of their lives and relationship for the better.
VERDICT Readers interested in Chinese history, Asian and Western relations, especially pre-World War II and pre-Communist China will enjoy this book.
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