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Book Review: "The Second Long March: Memoir From a Witness to China's Transformation

by Patti Isaacs

I had the huge pleasure of meeting Patti Isaacs years ago when she attended a critique group to which I belonged. I got to see the first version of The Second Long March, a memoir based on her and her husband’s year of teaching in China in 1981 just as the country began to open up.

The book has just published by Atmosphere Press!

I had the great fortune of reading an advance copy and she perfectly captures the transformative experience of a young American woman from Minnesota viewing a completely different culture that changed before her eyes and she came to love. Read my review below or on Goodreads.

Have you ever been to China? I never have, though I live in an area with a big Chinese population and where tech workers regularly travel to the country for business.


Patti Isaacs’ memoir, The Second Long March, is the fascinating account of a young woman from Minnesota who travels to China in 1981 just as the country teeters on the verge of cataclysmic economic and social change.

The book begins when the author is a newly-married young woman whose husband, a Chinese major in college, is hired by China’s Bureau of Foreign Experts to teach English for a year. Though given no instructions about how to get there destination, the couple eventually reach the ancient city of Xi’an in the Shaanxi Province.

There these two free spirits witness the aftermath of the disastrous Cultural Revolution: food shortages, bureaucratic inefficiency and impoverished housing. Yet once the couple meet their students — and purchase bicycles — the sights, sounds and kindness of people expand the Americans’ horizons.

The book concludes with the author’s return trip to China in 2005. Besides her descriptions of the amazing changes the country achieved in only twenty years, there are photos from 1981 and 2005 that offer a stark comparison of the two eras.

What makes this book great, though, are the wonderful, truthful descriptions of how the author feels at key moments, which bring to life the frustration, loneliness and wonder of experiencing an adventure that demands an open mind and determination to succeed rather than despair.


For updates about Martha’s forthcoming memoir, Bliss Road (June 2023), historical novel, The Falcon, the Wolf and the Hummingbird (October 2023), or other books, news and giveaways, subscribe to her website.

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