The Story Behind ‘THE PALEST INK’ by Kay Bratt

Written by Kay on . Posted in Book Recommendations, China-Inspired Book Recommendations

The Story Behind THE PALEST INK

By Kay Bratt

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THE PALEST INK is a story that started in my heart and stayed there for three years before putting it to paper. As I wrote my previous books, I was storing thoughts and possibilities, even characters and plotlines to be used, but only when I felt ready to take it on and do the story the justice it deserved.

Let me tell you how it began.

After writing Silent Tears, a memoir detailing my five years working in orphanages in China, I came across a news article about an elderly person in China who worked near the train station for decades. During that time he found many abandoned babies. Rather than turn them in to the authorities and let them enter the broken child welfare system, he took them home, him and his wife raising them as their own. Soon another similar article followed, this time of an elderly woman dying of cancer and the many now-grown children at her bedside who were saved from the streets by her. Both of these stories were heart-warming and thought-provoking. As I navigated daily life in China, I’d passed many elderly people. With simple conversation using the conversational and sometimes comical mandarin I’d learned, I knew they held nuggets of wisdom and well-guarded memories of a past gone by—history that was mostly unrecorded because in China, the media is controlled by the government and twisted to fit the picture they want to present to the rest of the world.

So I decided to write my own story about a man, his wife, and the family they build by rescuing abandoned girls. Though they were a poor and struggling family, they were rich with love and loyalty.

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I began the story with a prologue of the man—Benfu—as a teenager, escaping from a commune during the Cultural Revolution after being persecuted and tortured. By the acts of a country gone mad, he was torn from his family and forced to hide, but found acceptance with a girl who became his wife. Chapter one opens with Benfu in his golden years, together with the love of his life, having built their garden of flowers consisting of the many daughters they had rescued. The book did well enough to evolve into a series called The Tales of the Scavenger’s Daughters, and readers let me know that they’d like to know more about the time that Benfu was in the commune and the events that transpired which set his life on the path it took.


I agreed that despite the popularity of the modern-day series, perhaps I’d missed the real story, which was Benfu’s early and tumultuous introduction to adulthood by way of the Cultural Revolution. I began to add to my knowledge by researching that time period in China. The real life accounts of people who’d survived—and some who had not—were intriguing yet harrowing, and THE PALEST INK began to take form. As I wrote outlines and took notes from many sources, I decided to weave in real-life accounts of innocent people who were persecuted; beaten and imprisoned, their families torn apart for nothing more than leading the honest life they’d led in which Chairman Mao decided was against loyalty of country. The truth I dug up in my research was startling—that just for being an artist, musician, writer or teacher, one could be deemed a traitor and discarded like a piece of trash. I also discovered that for decades, the truth of what really happened during what they informally called “The Ten Years of Chaos” that was the Cultural Revolution was all but forgotten.

Why was this so? Because in Mao’s attempt to re-write history, most accounts of abuse of power were hidden from the world. To be caught with uncensored photographs or reports could mean death. Unapproved media articles or reports rarely slipped out. All over China, others had no idea of the path of death, starvation, and destruction that was happening around them. Thousands upon thousands of people were misled and fell into the trap of blindly following their leader, allowing him to reshape their thoughts to a point that many turned on their own families in an attempt to show their loyalty to Chairman Mao and the Communist Party.

With months of research under my belt, I finally came to understand the fear that I’d noticed the elderly Chinese people held for anyone in a position of authority. Everything began to make sense, and the reasoning for why Benfu was the way he was began to fall into place.

In THE PALEST INK, Benfu comes from an upper class family of scholars, which during the revolution was a source of shame. His best friend, Pony Boy, is from a poor class which is suddenly the favored class. Together they decide the people need to know the truth of what is happening to their country. There is an old proverb that says the palest ink is better than the best memory, and it is fitting considering the ban against recording of history that happened for so many years in China.

In the book, the idea of an underground newsletter called The Palest Ink is formed and is the catalyst for either the path to freedom, or the first steps to destruction of every bit of stability they’ve ever known. Benfu and Pony Boy must decide between being courageous and following what they believe in, or conforming like others around them to protect their families and themselves.

In closing, I think it’s important to mention that THE PALEST INK is more than another novel to me. It is written in dedication to the many who lost their lives, or were torn from their families and persecuted, for nothing more than the name they carried, the career they held, or any artistic talents they were unlucky enough to be born with. With this book, I want to convey to the people of China that every life is worth living, and not a single one should ever be considered anything but precious. With THE PALEST INK, I hope that they or at the least, their descendants, know they are not forgotten.

THE PALEST INK is available in print and Ebook on Amazon at [this link].

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For those who prefer to listen to a story unfold, THE PALEST INK is available in Audio.

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….and don’t forget that now that THE PALEST INK has launched, there are five books in the Tales of the Scavenger’s Daughters, so get them all to be totally engrossed in the story of a family who puts love and loyalty above all.


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Comments (2)

  • Joan Rienks


    This is one of the very best series I’ve ever read. Every book just got better and better. I have recommended it to all of my friends. If you haven’t read the series I strongly recommend you do so. Thanks Kay for an incredible job!


  • Tom Fisher


    I have read The Palest Ink. It is a moving story. The entire series is a “must read” for all who have adopted from China. The compassion of Benfu is moving. His love for these abandoned children is dep and genuine. Thank you Kay for this entire series and for giving us Benfu.
    Because of these books, I will never forget and I will do my best to teach my daughters the same. They are truly the lost daughters of China and descendants of Benfu.


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