Unlikely to appeal to the average reader.


Of opium pellets and smoke-filled alleys: an episodic novel of the Chinese demimonde, first published in 1894.

Literary scholar David Der-wei Wang offers in a foreword that this is the “greatest late Qing courtesan novel,” highly specific praise indeed. Han blends psychological realism and stylized convention in writing of courtesans, bearing such names as Twin Pearl and Gold Phoenix, who have made their way from unpromising places in the countryside to establish themselves in China’s first modern, westernized city; some of their customers, law-abiding citizens and family men such as Lotuson Wang and Bamboo Hu, actually think that the girls love them, but the girls themselves know that their work is part of an elaborate charade. In the way of a period opera, the action moves slowly; as one chapter header has it, “a new girl is given strict instructions at her toilet, and old debts are lightly dismissed by a hanger-on.” Though Chang (Written on Water, 2005, etc.) thought well enough of Bangqing’s novel to undertake a translation first from Wu into Mandarin Chinese and then into English, the book was never popular in China; even Chang allows that “there is no sensuous quality” in the book, unlikely to fulfill any would-be reader’s prurient expectations. It does not help that the English translation, revised by Hung, has a certain tin-ear, unidiomatic quality: “Instead of a party, just treat me to your buns. That’s easy for you and won’t cost you anything, right?”; “You know, I had just fallen asleep when you made all that racket and got yourself cursed at”; and “The two of them drank sparingly as they poured out their feelings to each other, and dinner was over only when they had fully enjoyed themselves.”

Unlikely to appeal to the average reader.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-231-12268-3

Page Count: 556

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2005

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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