CHAIRMAN MAO WOULD NOT BE AMUSED: Fiction from Today's China by Howard--Ed. Goldblatt

CHAIRMAN MAO WOULD NOT BE AMUSED: Fiction from Today's China

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The title is the second-best thing about this extremely uneven anthology of 20 stories written between 1985 and 1993. The best is ""The Brothers Shu,"" by Su Tong (the acclaimed Raise the Red Lantern, 1993), a preternaturally vivid vision of family unhappiness and hatred that blend together sexual torment, homicidal sibling rivalry, shape-shifting, and an aborted love suicide into a fiercely comic Dostoyevskian stew that fairly spews vitriol off the page. It's a defiant, and welcome, corrective to the collection's overall imaginative blandness. As editor and translator Goldblatt points out in his introduction, a moral and aesthetic backlash is evident in much of the literary expression that has followed the Cultural Revolution and the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. The work gathered here includes realistic tales of family and village conflict (Li Xiao's ""Grass on the Rooftop,"" Mo Yan's ""The Cure""), concentrated studies of erotic fixation (Li Rui's ""Sham Marriage,"" Ai Bei's ""Green Earth Mother""), and accounts of psychological enigma or disturbance frequently poised between reality and nightmare (Yu Hua's ""The Past and the Punishments,"" Duo Duo's ""The Day I Got to Xi'an,"" and Chen Cun's provocative ""Footsteps on the Roof""). But too many of the tales are dominated by ironic reversals and trick endings of the sort already overfamiliar to Western readers; one self-consciously raucous, blackly comic tale (Wang Xiangfu's ""Fritter Hollow Chronicles"") climaxes with a very old and well-known dirty joke. Meanwhile, though, there are other first-rate efforts in addition to Su Tong's: the amusingly masochistic fantasy of Chen Ran's kinky ""Sunshine Between the Lips""; Can Xue's Kafkaesque chronicle of a fugitive murderer's delirious last days, ""The Summons""; and Kong Jiesheng's ambitious detailing of the energies, hostilities, and consequences churned up during an archaeological dig in ""The Sleeping Lion."" Still, on balance, there's too much dross among the gold.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0802134491
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Grove