Fleeing her moribund marriage in Cape Town, Beth accepts a diplomatic posting to Shanghai. In this anonymous city she hopes to lose herself in books, wine, and solitude, and to dodge whatever pangs of conscience she feels for her fealty to a South African regime that, by the 21st century, has betrayed its early promises.
At night, she hears the sound of typing, and then late one evening Zhao arrives at her door. They explore hidden Shanghai and discover a shared love of Langston Hughes--who had his own Chinese and African sojourns. But then Zhao vanishes, and a typewritten manuscript--chunk by chunk--appears at her doorstep instead. The truths unearthed in this manuscript cause her to reckon with her own past, and the long-buried story of what happened to Kay, her fearless, revolutionary friend...
Connecting contemporary Shanghai, late Apartheid-era South Africa, and China during the Great Leap Forward and the Tiananmen uprising--and refracting this globe-trotting and time-traveling through Hughes’ confessional letters to a South African protege about the poet's time in Shanghai--How to Be a Revolutionary is an amazingly ambitious novel. It's also a heartbreaking exploration of what we owe our countries, our consciences, and ourselves.