This slim comic novel, the first by acclaimed Chinese author Ge Fei to be translated into English, follows the travails of a likable loser trying to stay afloat—financially and emotionally—in contemporary Beijing.
Cui builds tube amplifiers for a living. In the mid-1990s, during a boom in serious music interest in Beijing, Cui did well enough to buy a two-bedroom apartment and marry his girlfriend, Yufen. Four years later Beijing’s interest in serious music has died out and Cui is struggling financially. Worse, his mother’s warning that Yufen was “a little too easy-come-easy-go” has proven prophetic: recently, around the time of his mother’s death, Yufen “sweetly” asked for a divorce because she’d become involved with a man from her office. Cui let her have the apartment while he kept a valuable set of Autograph speakers. He now lives in his older sister's apartment, but she and her husband, who moved into his mother’s house, want him out ASAP. Ge Fei’s depiction of Beijing life is cynical—from the pompous professor who insists Cui install only the best sound system but knows nothing about music; to Cui’s manipulative sister; to his friend Jiang Songping, a glad-handing factory owner who patronizingly gives Cui Tommy Hilfiger shirts and helps him “fish” for clients among his wealthy acquaintances in order to show off his “highbrow tastes”; to the general graft and corruption apparent in the author’s descriptions of recently built apartment complexes. And it would be easy for a cynic to consider Cui a sucker for helping Yufen’s new husband out of a jam or trusting a mobster’s promise to send his payment after Cui installs his most valuable sound system. But page by page, Cui lives by his own moral compass until readers find themselves rooting for this philosophical Everyman to overcome every setback Ge Fei throws his way.
The plot may be slight, but the author packs in wit, social commentary, and an emotional depth that will lift the reader's spirits like few recent books.