This intriguing, if uneven, novel tells the story of a woman’s journey to activism and quest for justice.
When Ellen reads in the paper about recent Chinese refugees being housed in the nearby York, Pennsylvania, county prison awaiting deportation, she is compelled to join vigils protesting the government’s treatment of these people. Eventually, she writes letters to the prisoners; one of them, overwhelmed to have such a “guardian angel” on his side, replies and they form a deep friendship. This dissident, unknown to anyone, is the infamous “Tankman” who stood up to the advancing tanks in Tiananmen Square. Keeping his identity secret to protect his family still in China, he must decide whether to allow his deportation to proceed or to continue fighting to remain in a country treating him as a common criminal.
Ellen, meanwhile, has her own struggle. While her college-age daughter, who is moved to seek a career helping people, supports her work, her husband Dan has no patience for her spending all her free time helping people who, in his opinion, should go back where they came from. This conflict within her family causes her great pain, but Ellen will not let anyone, even her husband, keep her from her important work.
As the plot outline might indicate, the author obviously has an agenda to promote, making the novel read, on occasion, like a sermon on social issues rather than a story. In addition, the dialogue often seems stiff and unnatural, and the ending is rather violent and melodramatic. These flaws aside, the novel depicts Ellen’s gradual involvement in social issues with subtlety as she overcomes her hesitations and embraces her true calling. With a straightforward yet passionate style and an original song by the author offered at the end of the book, Tankman in America may educate and inspire those readers who persevere to confront injustice wherever they find it.