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 The author of The Flower-Drum Song (1956), as well as the recent pulp novel China Saga (1987), works up the events leading up to and surrounding Tiananmen Square into a family saga. Useful as a trot through the past 15 years or so of Chinese modernization and repression, but formulaic and clumsy as fiction. Charles Hong is a hotel tycoon who returns to China to see his son Jimmy, left behind in the 1940's. Settled in Hong Kong, Charles meets Jimmy (and his wife Do Do) for the first time. In the late 70's and early 80's, all's well: son and wife support Deng Xiaoping's modernization, and Charles is thinking about a hotel project in Beijing. The novel moves awkwardly and superficially through family logistics and byzantine commercial, political, and journalistic shenanigans. Charles meets an interior decorator who turns out to be a massage artist extraordinaire, while journalist Mark Hansen's assistant, Yun Mei, turns out to be a female spy. By 1986, the hotel has been beached amid a sea of red tape, and the freedom movement has gained momentum but is under attack by the corrupt elite, whose hard-line crackdown, of course, results in the Tiananmen Square debacle. Jimmy's wife is slain, and the suffering is terrible--witnessed for the reader mostly by Hansen, though the point of view jumps around at will. Finally, the novel moves into the mind of Deng himself, who, it seems, is a good guy who sleeps through the massacre on tranquilizers before ``tears wash down his leathery, round face. Nobody knew if the tears were for the students, or China, or himself. They knew that the three were all terrible tragedies.'' Fade-out. Not much insight here, but anyone interested in cardboard characters and a dramatized history lesson might give this one a try.

Pub Date: Aug. 19th, 1991
ISBN: 0-688-09764-2
Page count: 340pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1991