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THE MIDDLE HEART by Bette Bao Lord


by Bette Bao Lord

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-394-53432-8
Publisher: Knopf

 A gripping tale of a trio's bittersweet friendship as it's tested by love and by turbulent times in 20th-century China. Meticulously attentive as usual to those cultural and historical details that give her writing an accessible authenticity, Lord (Spring Moon, 1981; a memoir, Legacies, 1990) tells the story of Steel Hope, the son of the ancient house of Li; Mountain Pine, the brother of Steel Hope's wet-nurse; and Summer Wishes, daughter of a former barge captain. The friendship begins in childhood in the 1930s on the banks of the Yangtze River when the two boys and Summer Wishes, at first pretending to be a boy in order to do her ailing father's work, swear oaths of loyalty--a loyalty that's unchanged even by the discovery of Summer Wishes's true identity. Later, there are additional incidents of muddied identity, but these confusions are secondary to the love that develops between Steel Hope and Summer Wishes, who grows up to become an opera singer. On the sidelines watching, meanwhile, is scholarly Mountain Pine, torn between his loyalty to Steel Hope and his own love for Summer Wishes. The ties that bind are further tested when war breaks out, first against the Japanese, then between the Communists and Nationalists: The lovers are parted; Steel Hope, assumed killed in an accident, goes underground to join a Maoist cadre; and a despairing Summer Wishes marries Mountain Pine and bears him a son. She and Steel Hope finally get together again when Mountain Pine is imprisoned, then are temporarily separated once more by the Cultural Revolution. At a reunion of the three friends, Steel Hope meets Summer Wishes's granddaughter, who later, as Tiananmen Square further roils these characters' lives, offers some continuity and comfort. A love story, quietly elegiac, that, like a scene in a classic Chinese painting, captures a moment when to love and live were perilous and often impossible. (First printing of 100,000; author tour)