"These stories personify the compassion, humor, and dignity inherent not just in survival but in triumphing over despair." —O, The Oprah Magazine
When Xiaoda Xiao was twenty years old, he tore a poster of Chairman Mao while inebriated. Several months later, Xiao was arrested in order to fulfill an absurd quota and, without trial, declared a counterrevolutionary. He was sent to a labor prison on an island in Taihu Lake, where he worked in a stone quarry.
The Visiting Suit chronicles Xiao's arrest through his release from the labor prison five years later.
The book, told in stories—which have appeared in The Atlantic, DoubleTake, Confrontation, and Antaeus—focus equally on Xiao's fellow inmates (a local theater director, a veterinarian, a university professor), and capture their mutual everyday struggle to survive their sentences with dignity intact.
The cruelties inflicted upon the Chinese population by the government are ongoing, and The Visiting Suit provides a unique and important glimpse behind the curtain.
"Xiao's literary accompishment [is that] after several well-crafted chapters of prison prose, he holds up a piece of cloth that would have meant little at the beginning of the narrative and shows it as a symbol of unity, beauty, and hope."
"[Xiao] recount[s] his struggle in sometimes unexpectedly lovely detail. Against great odds, in the grimmest of settings, he manages to find good in the darkness."
—New York Times Book Review
"These stark, unadorned stories have a simple immediacy, composed with natural, everyday language for only one purpose: to tell you exactly what it was like."
"Compelling... The standout tale 'Li Minchu—The Cost Of A Dream' exemplifies the kind of inadvertent surrealism totalitarian regimes produce. [Xiao] lets the details do the talking; his book is better for it."
—The Onion A.V. Club
"Xiaoda does not linger on the injustice or bitterness of his plight. Instead he gives us stories of people surviving and interacting under difficult situations, with camaraderie that fills the void between cruelty and violence. It is the world of the camp’s newspaper wall, rice powder thefts, and bedding dragged out to the sunny yard that stay with you after reading this book."
"Xiao tells his tale with a guileless tongue, revealing a prison system in China that no other author writing in English has yet so deftly exposed, and it is a necessary exposure. With a keen eye for intimate observation and an uncanny ability to create dream-like melancholy from forthright prose, Xiao has given his readers an important and rare glimpse into a world too few of us understand."
—The Global Journal
"A thoughtful piece of history and fine addition to any historical memoir collection about one of the twentieth century's great atrocities."
—Midwest Book Review
Xiaoda Xiao has published stories based on his prison experience during the last years of Mao’s regime in China in various magazines, including The Atlantic Monthly. He is the author of the novel The Cave Man.