LIAISON by Joyce Wadler


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 High-class retelling of the real-life affair behind the mistaken-sex plot of M. Butterfly. Wadler wrote the poignant My Breast (1992). Bernard Boursicot sought adventure and, in the early 60's, wound up clerking for the French embassy in Beijing as a 20-year- old virgin who'd detached himself from some distasteful homosexual episodes as a schoolboy. In China, he met Shi Pei Pu, a small, mysterious, and apparently male singer who'd played women's roles with the Beijing Opera. After many months of shared lunches and dinners, Pei Pu revealed to Bernard that he was actually a woman. His anxiety-ridden parents had raised him as a boy, he said, and, in unisex Mao clothes, it had been easy to pass as a man. Slowly, Bernard fell for Pei Pu, then began having sex with her/him, usually in the dark but not always. According to both, this was passionate sex, and, 18 years later, Bernard still thought Pei Pu a woman despite the singer's affairs with other women. When the two were arrested in Paris for spying (Bernard had fallen under the spell of Mao's Little Red Book and performed some innocuous spying for China so he could stay with Pei Pu and care for his supposed son by the singer), doctors proved that Pei Pu was a man. How had the guileful Pei Pu duped Bernard for so long? Well, the answer convinces but won't be revealed here, since Wadler (who badgers Bernard in several interviews reprinted throughout the text) passes through several explanations before arriving, on her last page, at the real trick used by Pei Pu.... Compelling and faintly bittersweet. (Sixteen pages of b&w photographs--not seen)

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 1993
ISBN: 0-553-09213-8
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Bantam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1993