Nancy Pine’s newest book, “One in a Billion: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey through Modern Day China,” tells the story of An Wei,* a man whose personal journey mirrors that of modern China. It began as a conversation she first had 20 years ago and has become the most important story she’s ever told.
“An Wei and his determination are at the heart of the story,” says Pine, professor emerita of education at Mount Saint Mary’s University. “Despite tremendous odds, he always held on to his values, stood up for his convictions and improved situations. He always pushed back against the authoritarian government and brought about change.”
Pine first met An Wei in 2002. She had been traveling to China since 1989, researching early childhood education, and An Wei was the director of a teaching project she joined in his rural village. After hearing him share about his life, she asked if she could interview him for an article. That first night turned into a decade of interviews that she realized would someday be a book. “I knew it was a wonderful story for people to understand China better,” she says.
But that book would have to wait 20 years. In the meantime, Pine, director of elementary education at Mount Saint Mary’s, kept busy running that program and the University’s Bridging Cultures program that she started in 2000, which brought faculty members from China’s Nanjing University to the Mount each year to share Chinese culture and history with students. Her first book, “Educating Young Giants: What Kids Learn (And Don’t Learn) in China and America,” was published in 2012.
In 2010, she turned once again to An Wei. The challenge was to make his life read like a novel instead of an academic paper. His story is filled with fascinating details, including his work as an interpreter for President Jimmy Carter, the Queen of the Netherlands, and Henry Kissinger, and as the leader of a democratic congress in his village. To hone her creative writing voice, Pine took novel writing courses at UCLA and attended an artist’s workshop in northern Vermont.
"I have a strong interest in 'stories of courage,' about people who take risks to promote change and social justice. Nancy Pine's "One in a Billion," about An Wei brings to life the evolution of modern China and one seemingly fearless man's efforts to challenge unjust authorities and stand up for integrity and freedom. This is a valuable testimony to individual resilience."
--Claire Gorfinkel, Goodreads review, 5 of 5 stars
Pine has poured her love for China into her new book and is thrilled with the results. “One in a Billion” is captivating audiences across the country, and she’s lining up speaking engagements at several museums in New York City. “People keep telling me it’s a page turner!” she says.
* Note: Following Chinese convention, the family surname, An, appears first. Also, in deference to Chinese culture, the full name is used here in all subsequent references.