A relentlessly critical and often scathing collection from prize-winning writer Zhang Jie (Heavy Wings, 1989): stories that are as much an indictment of life in post-Cultural Revolution China as any work of reportage. A victim herself of the notorious practice of ``reeducation,'' Zhang Jie writes with firsthand experience of the bureaucratic torpor, nepotism, hypocrisy, and of the ubiquitous paralyzing politicizing of everything from arranging a funeral for a loyal member to trying to get a patient into a hospital elevator in time for life-saving surgery. The longest piece—''What's Wrong with Him?''—is a series of vignettes, straight out of some horror movie, of men and women associated with a hospital. Women doctors faint because they are undernourished; an exhausted surgeon has to share his room with a boorish and heavy-drinking carpenter; a cardiologist invited to visit America must travel with an assistant approved by the Party; operations are bungled, and only Party officials receive proper care. In ``The Other World,'' an artist from the country, discovered by a rich foreigner, is exploited by members of the local cultural institutions who cynically use him for their own advancement. Two other notable stories are ``Today's Agenda,'' a devastating satire of bureaucratic inertia, and ``Professor Meng Abroad,'' in which the poor professor's need for a restroom becomes a symbolic tussle between him, the individual, and the Party, in the form of its representative, tour leader Miss Ding. Though infused with passion and searing in their descriptions of a grossly flawed society, Zhang Jie's stories are remarkably free of polemic. A timely contribution.
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