MY LUCKY FACE by May-lee Chai


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 A richly detailed but emotionally tepid first novel about a Chinese woman who decides to leave her bright, unhappy husband and cycle off alone in search of happiness. By current Chinese standards, Lin-Jun has everything: a job teaching English in a Nanjing middle school; a husband, Shao Hong, with a white-collar job; an adorable young son, Bao-bao; and an apartment of their own. Life should be bliss, then, especially for a 31-year-old woman whose parents were victims of the Cultural Revolution. (Lin-Jun spent her childhood in the countryside with Auntie Gao, a gruff but loving friend of her mother's, who insisted that Lin-Jun learn to read and study.) While she enjoys her work, however, some colleagues are jealous of her; although her marriage began as a love match, Shao Hong, dissatisfied in his job, has lately been avoiding his wife and working late; and Bao-bao is healthy and loving but, though only five, spends the week at a boarding school. Lin-Jun's only source of pleasure now is riding her bicycle, her Flying Pigeon--an ``ally when the silence of [her] apartment becomes too much to bear.'' The arrival of Cynthia, an American exchange teacher for whom Lin-Jun is appointed interpreter, crystallizes these discontents. Cynthia urges Lin-Jun to change her life, move to another city, and leave Shao-Hong. A humiliating job interview in nearby Shanghai and her in-laws' revelations about the painful childhood of Shao-Jong weaken her resolve. Then, however, despite the disapproval of her family and colleagues, she decides after all that she no longer loves her husband and asks for a divorce. If she stays married, she says, she ``would not be happy. . . would never feel free.'' A timely setting and elegant writing don't help a protagonist who looks good, talks persuasively, but somehow never comes alive. A disappointing debut. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Aug. 5th, 1997
ISBN: 1-56947-094-4
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Soho
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1997