A Chinese girl working in a Shenzhen brothel to support her family back home looks for a way out.
Between the constant police harassment, the danger of disease, and the unremitting awfulness of the work itself, prostitution is not a profession Lotus hopes to pursue indefinitely. But now that her honor is indelibly soiled, the only obvious escape route is to become a paid concubine. Unfortunately, the man who would like her to be his mistress has a crappy apartment and offers a meager allowance. A more successful and attractive prospect keeps coming around but hasn’t offered anything concrete. As she sits in a clinic studying a poster depicting the ravages of STDs and listening to a co-worker’s cries during an abortion, she wonders about the future. “Would Mimi ever become a mother?...Could a ji ever return to a normal life? The cloud of doubt wrapped around Lotus as she sat opposite the gruesome poster.” Fortunately, there is one bright spot: her friendship with a divorced photojournalist called Bing who is profiling her for an article on the sex industry. Their story unfolds in chapters with names that sound like fortune-cookie messages: “In Nature There Are Unexpected Storms, and in Life Unpredictable Vicissitudes,” “Near to Rivers, We Recognize Fish, Near to Mountains, We Recognize the Songs of Birds,” and “Past Experience, If Not Forgotten, Is a Guide for The Future.” Zhang’s debut novel follows a well-received memoir (Socialism is Great!, 2008); she lives in Beijing and wrote this novel in English. While the sex industry setting is nominally racy, there is a naïve, simplistic quality to the story and the prose.
A Book of Little Depth May Still Find Some Readers.