Looking East by Jacqueline Dreager | blending historical fiction and memoir

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When I read the press release for Looking East I knew I wanted to share this with Jera’s Jamboree readers.

As well as information about the novel, I also have an excerpt for you to read.

When Jacqueline Dreager began writing a memoir about her nine years in a studio on Los Angeles Skid Row, the literary process came as an exciting surprise. Born in Los Angeles to a family of artists

and special effects wizards in Hollywood’s film industry, she spent most of her life firmly rooted in the visual art world.  Exhibitions, reviews, and public art were part of her daily routine, not writing. Armed with a new medium, Jacqueline Dreager was propelled into unexplored territory. An exciting form of creativity and passion that she never dreamed possible wrapped itself around her.

The seed for her novel, Looking East, was planted by a woman who lived half her life not knowing who her father was. Is he alive? If so, where is he? Is he dead? How did he die? Her Russian mother, bitter and resentful over the breakup of her relationship, refused to answer her daughter’s questions about her Chinese father. In December 1981, the woman received a telephone call from the Chinese Embassy in Washington, DC, asking if she would like to go to China to meet her father, who had been searching for her since his release from the Siberian prison system where he spent eighteen years. The woman did go to China, and Looking East is the story of a journey that needs to be shared.

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In 1912 Guangxi Provence, nine year old Guoshi Mo experienced two life altering events: his pigtail was chopped off and subsequently he was betrothed to a little girl his own age simply named, Sister 13. Guoshi, an exemplary student, was dead set against this type of arrangement and would spend most of his life fighting to right the wrongs of feudalism and corruption.

Changing his name from Guoshi Mo to James Mo, he sailed from Shanghai to New York City in 1920 to work for the American Communist Party. He met and fell in love with Celia Edelson, a Young Pioneer from the communist youth division. Considered an agitator by The New York Times, Comrade James Mo was on the FBI list of suspicious individuals and was spirited out of New York to the Soviet Union, leaving behind his beloved Celia. Within one year she would join him in Moscow to live at the infamous Lux, the hotel that housed German, Russian and Chinese exiles. In 1933 Celia became pregnant and was sent back to the United States by the Communist Party while James continued his studies at the Lenin Institute in Moscow.

In April 1934 Celia’s baby is born in Cleveland Ohio. That same year Celia hears rumblings of James affair with a Ukrainian woman he met in Moscow. Celia, resentful and bitter, cuts off communication with the father of her child. Comrade James Mo marries, has a son and is subsequently arrested and imprisoned at two Moscow prisons, Lubianka, prison of death and Butyrka prison for deceiving the Party and lying about being born into a landowning family of intellectuals.

One hundred prisoners, including James, were escorted by train to a labor camp in the Siberian tundra where he would remain for eighteen years, felling trees, making bricks and patrolling an oil pipeline. Never having met his American daughter, Victoria, he would search for her for a dozen years upon his release from the Siberian Gulag.

Jacqueline Dreager met James and Celia’s daughter, Victoria, in the 1970s in Los Angeles. When Victoria learned that her father had been searching for her, Dreager filed the news away in the recesses of her mind thinking that one day she would write the story of her dear friend, Victoria.

Excerpt from Looking East by Jacqueline Dreager

“I can’t believe this! We’ve done everything by the book!” shouted the press operator.

Li Lisan strolled in, carrying a bag of sweets for the workers from Filippov’s Bakery just as a junior editor stomped out of the office, screaming in frustration, “That fucking French government!”

James whispered in Li’s ear: “The French authorities are threatening to seize Saving the Nation.” Li Lisan spoke, trying to calm the staff. “We’re going to put this paper back into publication or die trying!” Knocking over a vase of roses, Li jumped on one woman’s desk, shouting, “All our sweat is in the ink and in the paper it’s printed on, and in every article written! Any ideas, people?”

There was a buzz in the room, a palpable intensity that bounced off the walls. James held up his hands for quiet. “Comrades, I have a thought. To put the publication back into distribution, I suggest changing the name to Save the Homeland.”

Applause and shouts shot through the building. “Brilliant!” “Great idea!” “Perfect solution!”

Li Lisan patted James on the back. “You’re a genius, my friend.”

With the help of a dozen writers staying up many nights until dawn, Comrade Mo began enthusiastically producing a periodical written in Moscow, printed in Paris, and distributed clandestinely. Its network of distribution covered a dozen cities in China, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Nanjing. Outside China, the newspaper was read in more than forty countries in Asia, Europe, and North America, with its readership soaring to 20,000. Avid readers ranged from Chinese laundry workers in Brooklyn to Shanghai postal workers.

The Foreign Workers’ Publishing House, located on a small road close to Red Square in Moscow, had its editorial department in the Chinese section, which was across the street. James’s accommodations would be in the new dormitory belonging to the publishing house, so he could work whenever he felt like it. Mr. Liao and Li Lisan made the decision for Comrade Mo to move out of the Lux. James was fine with that, except he would miss Annette and Henry, who he saw often for meals, gossip, and events at the Lenin Institute. He felt more connected to Celia through the couple, as Annette wrote Celia several times a month, with Henry, ever the writer, sometimes contributing an acerbic postscript. Annette reported all the news of baby Victoria back to James, who never minded reading what Celia had already told him.

One evening, Li Lisan told James, “Comrade Mo, you’ve been working like a dog, as the Americans say. Go have fun! Have a drink at the Lux bar, relax, dance a little. The music is good, and there are always women looking for a man to dance with.”

James rubbed his forehead and yawned. “That sounds good, actually. My writing is piling up, but I need to take a break from my typewriter. I don’t know, though—I’d feel strange dancing with someone other than Celia.”

“Go, James. Have a night on me.” He paused, and a mysterious look flashed upon his face. “I have some news of a personal nature. I haven’t told anyone yet—you’ll be the first to know.”

Inspired by actual events and peppered throughout with the lives of famous characters from the world of politics and culture (Jack London, Mao Zedong, Jack Reed), Jacqueline Dreager’s historical novel is illuminated by a period in history that has all but been forgotten: Exotic China, the USSR’s dark and dangerous past, greed, romance, racial inequities and war, with heartbreaking agony, characters are pushed to their limit by Sisyphean challenges. Now with Looking East completed, she is considering a sequel.

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I've been blogging about my interests at Jera's Jamboree for 8+ years. My love of reading, crocheting, being out in nature and positive psychology are all things that help me unwind from my role as an Inclusion Lead in a primary school.

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