FAREWELL TO MY CONCUBINE by Lilian Lee

FAREWELL TO MY CONCUBINE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 From bestselling Hong Kong writer Lee (The Last Princess of Manchuria, 1992): a breathless and broad-brushed tale of love among the stars of the Peking opera, the movie version of which won top prize at Cannes and is scheduled for simultaneous release. Sold by his prostitute mother to a director of a school that trains young boys to be singers in the Peking opera, timid Xiao Douzi is soon befriended by older and braver Xiao Shitou. Life at the training school is rigorous if not harsh, but Douzi, who shows much promise, is protected for the most part by Shitou, who's strong enough to split a brick in two with his forehead. The boys grow, give performances, and, as their abilities are recognized, eventually become the stars of a leading company. Their favorite opera is Farewell to My Concubine, in which the manly Shitou sings the role of a defeated general, and Douzi, who's perfected all the necessary gestures, plays the role of his beloved and loyal concubine. Immersed in their art, the two young men are only gradually aware of what's happening in China itself. The Japanese invade, occupy; civil war breaks out; and then Mao takes over. Meanwhile, Shitou marries a former prostitute, much to the despair of Douzi, who loves him. The political turmoil curtails their performances, but their troubles worsen during the Cultural Revolution: Douzi is accused of being a collaborator; both are denounced for participating in a decadent art; both are forced to undergo reeducation, brutal interrogations, and exile in the countryside. Years later, they meet up in Hong Kong, and the two old singers sing their favorite duets--but it's too late: The old affection can't survive; ``the glittering tragedy is over.'' A contemporary action-packed Chinese history lesson and love story with as much nuance as a revolutionary slogan. The movie must be better.

Pub Date: Sept. 24th, 1993
ISBN: 0-688-12020-2
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1993