CHAOS AND ALL THAT

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. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-8248-1617-X

Page Count: 144

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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