THE PIANO TUNER by Cheng Naishan


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Emotionally broad, socially complex stories and novella--from China's only well-known author openly converted to Christianity. Cheng's religious principles and aristocratic background impinge on almost every tale here and provide a distance unique to contemporary Chinese fiction. "In My Heart There is Room For Three," whose title comes from a hymn, shows a 33-year-old spinster devoted to the Christian Church contemplating the spiritual rewards of marriage. The story's blatant piety certainly signals a crack in Chinese government defenses about freedom of religion. "No. 2 and No. 4 of Shanghai," a novella, works out class and ethical conflicts between a well-to-do, Westernized business-class family and traditional blue-collar workers. Though twisting and dispersed, the story holds together well enough for Cheng to paint sympathetically the conflicting actors in China's changing politics, from old radicals to new entrepreneurs. In the title story, musical motifs shade the class tension between an aged piano-tuner and the upper-crust clients he services, while a fledgling proletarian musician shares a symbolic social harmony with a well-schooled female pianist. In all of Cheng's pieces, healing old wounds (of the Cultural Revolution, for example) and finding new truces is paramount to her vision of social stability in the New China. Though sapped by clumsy styling (or bumpy translation), this collection sheds passionate white light on contemporary China, offering faith and solace to its bedraggled spirits.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1989
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