The China-born Sa, who arrived in France in 1990 as a late adolescent and writes in French, presents the first of her three novels to be translated into English.
THe story is set in Manchuria during the 1930s and follows the gradually intertwining lives of a young Manchurian girl and an invading Japanese soldier who competes against her in an ongoing game of Go. Oblivious to the political turmoil around her, the 16-year-old, whose name is not revealed until the last page, lives with her middle-class, westernized parents, attends school, and hangs out at the town square, where she beats all her opponents at Go. Caught up in the chaos of a demonstration, the girl is rescued by two students, Min and Jing, and soon finds herself in a complicated romantic triangle, sleeping with Min but drawn to Jing. Meanwhile, a 24-year-old unnamed Japanese soldier arrives in Manchuria, full of patriotism. He fights his first battle, traps “terrorists,” receives letters from home, and becomes involved with a prostitute. After a game of Go with his captain, he is assigned to play Go on the square in order to spy on the locals. He and the young girl begin a game. He becomes obsessed with her, although to her he is merely a “lump” to whom she pays little attention while wrapped in the angst of her own adolescent crisis: She’s pregnant. Unaware of the girl’s connection, the soldier helps in the arrest and torture of Min and Jing for their politics. The girl has an abortion. Still, the game goes on until Jing, freed after betraying the others, convinces the girl to run away to Peking. After the Japanese overrun the city, she’s captured by Japanese soldiers. She is about to be raped when her Go opponent recognizes her. He acknowledges his love by killing/saving her and himself.
Intense, operatic personal tragedy magnified by Sa’s sense of history and Eastern culture.