EASTCHESTER, N.Y. – "The New York Times" bestselling author Da Chen visited the Tuckahoe Community Center on Wednesday night to discuss his childhood in Southeast China, the reason he writes and his latest book “My Last Empress.”
Chen spoke about his difficult formative years growing up in Communist China. He was threatened with imprisonment at the age of 9 before escaping to America when he was 23 years old. He went to Columbia Law School on a full scholarship and passed the bar before pursuing his career in writing.
The author brought a bamboo flute with him – one of the few pleasures he enjoyed as a child – and played a song for the audience.
“I was playing alone in my village, with just the mountains for company. For the first time I felt connected with the world beyond this place. I felt like I belonged with the rest of humanity,” he said. “The more deprived you are, the more desire you have.”
The Red Army had a dramatic influence on Chen’s life and writing. When he was still a child, three of his great uncles were murdered because they wouldn’t allow their farmland to be nationalized. He also witnessed his father crying after being beaten by the butts of rifles until he was unrecognizable.
“That moment of vulnerability and tenderness is why I write,” he said. “I write to tell the stories that can’t be told. It’s important that a nation is known for its brilliant successes, but also for its faults so we can help make it better.”
While his childhood was the influence for his memoir and critically acclaimed book “Brothers,” it was a trip to Yale University that motivated him to write his latest novel. He was taken to see a statue of Mr. Pickens on campus, depicting the “first Yalie who was beheaded by Chinese rebels.”
Chen said that when he looked at the somber bronze statue, inspiration struck.
“It was just a statue, but I had a man-to-man moment with it. I could feel his energy and it came alive to me,” he said. “The book came to me all at once. It was a real ethereal moment.”
Following his speech, Chen signed and sold books using his grandfather’s paintbrush – another cherished childhood heirloom. The proceeds from sales went to the Friends of the Tuckahoe Public Library, which sponsored the event.
“This is the third time he’s come to visit us in Tuckahoe,” Library Director Swadesh Pachnanda said. “After we had him the first time, everyone was begging for him to come back, and he was able to join us.”