Suoqun Liu and I were friends at Penn in the early '80s. We both worked at the Annenberg Center, and got to see so many plays and performances for free. Suoqun was from remote western China, near Xi'an or thereabouts. I was amazed; I'd never met anyone from "Red" China before. When I myself went to China for a few years, I came back and started talking to Suoqun in fluent Mandarin. "Oh, you can go anywhere," he said.
We then lost touch, but a while back I did a search on him, and wrote him an email to catch up on life. When I did not receive a reply, I dug further. I found out that Suoqun had written a personal history, "A Village Boy From China," a charmingly written story of his remarkable hardships and eventual happiness. I also found out that he had died of lung cancer shortly after the book was pressed.
A non-smoker, Suoqun nonetheless was victimized by awful environmental pollutants back in China. He had no way of knowing at the time of the book's writing that the scenes he was describing would eventually lead to this awful result. Although I am not mentioned in the book, several scenes refer to me. I gave him his skateboard, and we made shabbos together several times with our mutual friend Sari.