A political drama set against the backdrop of the Three Gorges Dam project in China.
Why Hong (K: The Art of Love, 2002, etc.) would choose to fight the damming of the Yangtze River and its resultant environmental damage by writing a novel is a question that arises from a reading of this one. Why she would provide an autobiographical preface explaining her own involvement with the Three Gorges region, then an afterword outlining the Chinese legend on which her book is based, is another. As a stylist, Hong is no W.G. Sebald, and when she creates situations that have environmental innuendos—a scene that takes place in a laboratory, for example, while a sandstorm rages outside—she telegraphs them as meaningful details, explorations of natural power to be controlled, and reflections of her characters’ internal sensibilities. The story focuses on genetic engineer Liu, whose husband, Li, is the director of the dam project (they have in common that both seek to manipulate nature). When Li, a busy, moveable target, uncharacteristically has a pretty underling deliver a large bottle of perfume to Liu, Liu becomes suspicious and sets out to track him down. In the process, she takes a trip back to the region of her youth, where she learns about the corrupt world of the previous generation, including her father’s involvement with the discrediting of his own friends, and perhaps her husband’s lethal corruption. There, she meets Yueming, poor artist son of her mother’s former best friend, who was born on the same day as Liu herself and who organizes protests against the high-handed treatment of peasants forced to vacate their land because of the dam project. In the end, the two approximate the legendary attempted escape of a prostitute and a monk who were executed solely to satisfy the personal ambition of Liu and Yueming’s fathers, 50 years before.
More politics than novel. A movie version could be more interesting than the print.