THE TENT OF ORANGE MIST by Paul West

THE TENT OF ORANGE MIST

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Veteran writer West (Tenement of Clay, 1992; A Stroke of Genius, 1995; etc.) returns, this time focusing on the knife-edge relationship of a Chinese daughter and her father with a Japanese whoremaster. Beginning with the Japanese capture of Nanking in 1937, West examines the delicateand inevitably compromisedrelationship that develops between conquerors and conquered as he tells the story of Scald Ibis; her father, Hong; and Hayashi, the invading colonel who controls their fate. When the Japanese soldiers trash her family's villa, the 16-year-old Scald Ibis is raped by Hayashi and his superior officer. As artist and intellectual, she finds it difficult to reconcile her past with the presentshe'd been taught by her father, an internationally famous scholar and calligrapher now off at war, that ``home life was a life of art.'' But for all her delicacy, Scald Ibis endureseven as Hayashi transforms the villa into a high-class bordello, the ``Tent Of Orange Mist,'' catering to the most depraved and jaded of sexual appetites. While Hayashi, enjoying his new responsibility, imagines receiving prestigious medals for his efforts, Scald Ibis's survival is paradoxically assured: Now that she's in a ``conduct zone devoid of codes...[where] even ethics had become merely decorative,'' she accepts Hayashi's plan to turn her into a geisha. As she adjusts to her new situation, however, Hong appears and uses his linguistic skills to become Hayashi's interpreter. For a few months, the trio exist in a carefully calibrated association, but when Hong finds out what services Scald Ibis must perform, he kills Hayashi, and is, of course, killed in turn. Only Scald Ibis survives, living to sue the Japanese government 55 years later. A terrible tale, vividly told, marred only by West's intrusive intellectual riffs and asides that have the effect of trivializing the unadorned truth.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-684-80031-4
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1995




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