Jia's US debut novel, awarded the 1991 Pegasus Prize, is a subtle, sinuous tale set in rural China in the 1980's--an epic of plain river people coping with incessant government meddling in their daily affairs. Existence along the Zhou River alternates between the mundane and the magical in Jia's experienced hands (twenty-four books, three of them novels) as the inhabitants of the village of Stream of Wandering Spirits and nearby White Rock Stockade spring vibrantly to life. Torn between the manipulations of rival Tian and Gong clans, both infinitely corruptible, the villagers languish until a capable young man decides to grab the bullies by the horns. Golden Dog, enthusiastic and daring, returns home from the army and organizes a profitable riverboat trade, which the powers-that-be quickly adopt as their own shipping brigade. Undaunted, Golden Dog deftly takes advantage of their weaknesses until chosen to become a journalist in Zhou City, a position he uses to great effect in exposing rampant graft and ineptitude in the bureaucracy. The hazards of his profession and his own self-doubt take their toll, however, as his beloved Water Girl marries another when circumstances and political pressure force them apart. Longing brings him back to his old friends as a local correspondent, but his reformist zeal earns him imprisonment and torture. When finally released, he goes back to the river with new plans and dreams, Water Girl at his side, but their future is as uncertain and muddy as a river flood. Country habits and haunting imagery greatly enrich this moral saga of a China at the crossroads, caught between old ways and new. Long-winded, perhaps, but impressive and revealing all the same.