SWALLOWING CLOUDS by Lillian Ng

SWALLOWING CLOUDS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

            A young Chinese woman exiled to Australia reenacts the ancient rituals of sex with a married man – with disastrous results – in a first US publication by the Singapore-born Ng.

            Syn, an English student in Sydney, is also the reincarnation of an adulterous Shanghai woman drowned in a pig basket in 1918.  Far from home during the Tiananmen Square massacre, Syn’s show of support for the students there results in the termination of her grant and her rights of citizenship.  Desperate to make ends meet, she takes a job in the butcher shop of Zhu Zhiyee, who quickly enlists her as his concubine.  With pleasure, she agrees to facilitate him sexually (and, in the novel, at length) and emotionally.  Zhu, wealthy from his thriving business, puts her up in the ultimate Luv Hut, a virtual mansion equipped with hooks in the ceiling from which she may dangle, happily bound, while he penetrates her “passage of yin” with his “stiff jade whisk.”  Zhu’s explorations in this area are exhaustive:  smells, tastes, tongues, armpits, and pubic hairs all blend to provoke sexual transcendence.  During an early mopping up, Zhu confides that his young daughter, BaiTien, is autistic and has undergone a hysterectomy.  Then, Zhu’s wife catches on to his extracurricular activities and sees to it that Syn is fired from the shop; BaiTien is relocated to an institution; and Zhu’s “Chinese Sausage” is kept trouser-bound.  Meanwhile, Syn has become pregnant, miscarries, and recalls traditional loyalty to her mother in Shanghai, who refuses to join her daughter in Sydney.  This entire paper-thin story is recalled when Syn visits China in 1994; as her tour-group views the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Summer Palace, she ponders the eerie parallels between her tale and her country’s history.

            Unmotivated sex, even as syrupy as this, is the province of windup toys.  And because Ng’s characters are sketched in monotone, their fate inspires only mystification.

Pub Date: July 26th, 1999
ISBN: 0-88001-644-2
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1999