CHAOS AND ALL THAT by Liu Sola

CHAOS AND ALL THAT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

True to its title, this entry in the Fiction from Modern China series is a swirling, irreverent look at China during and after Mao that explodes with displacement and creativity, usually well harnessed. Huang Haha is a Chinese woman studying in London, but this novel jumps all over the map, from first- to third-person and from Haha's childhood to the present. Haha herself is attempting to write a novel and comes up with ""a ragbag of half-told stories, half-formed ideas and half-remembered incidents."" Which pretty much describes the structure of Sola's novel, but thematically the material holds together, with thanks due to the outstanding translation, which manages to keep up the breakneck pace. Haha recalls different incidents: her attempts to follow her brother into the Red Guard, her relationship with a London teacher, time spent in the country learning how to be a peasant. Haha notes that the ""most essential qualification for being a Red Guard was that you had to be able to say to people's faces the kinds of things you usually only find written on toilet walls,"" and she recalls an escalating schoolyard cursing duet she performed with a friend in hopes of being accepted into the Red Guard when she was 11. In relation to her time in the countryside, she gives a long treatise on feces, explaining how ""we learned that shit really was worth its weight in gold"" because of its fertilizing properties. Her time in London also provides fodder for irony, as Haha observes that ""For Londoners, eating with chopsticks was a symbol of refinement, like eating a bun on a fork in Peking."" Occasionally, Sola seems to get too much of a kick from scatological remarks, but this quick-witted novel (which has been published in Hong Kong but not in China) is a head-twirling treat. Punchy and hilarious, and simultaneously melancholy and acerbic.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1994
Page count: 144pp
Publisher: Univ. of Hawaii