THE BLUE-EYED SHAN by Stephen Becker


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The Shan are the people of eastern Burma. And the blue-eyed Shan is young American anthropologist Greenwood, who got stranded during WW II and wound up in the Shan village of Pawlu--where he took lovely Loi-mae as his concubine, fathered the child Lola, and befriended Chinese officer Yang. Now, however, it's 1949: Greenwood has long since abandoned Loi-mae and Lola (with village approval) for US soldiering and academia; the Chinese Communists are conquering, with Yang (now a general) and his men in flight. So Greenwood and Yang (who claims to be in possession of the fabled Peking Man bones) have arranged to rendezvous in Pawlu, where Greenwood will help his old friend to escape to the West. Becker's elegant novel, then, alternates between Greenwood's northeast route to Pawlu (bandits along the way) and Yang's southwest trek--while flashbacks fill in the two men's lives, along with those of a few others: Pawlu's mystical chieftain; Loi-mae's new husband Naung, the village's ""First Rifle""; and Colonel Olevskoy, Yang's Russian-born, womanizing subordinate. And soon, of course, the Greenwood/Yang plan will go awry. Though Greenwood is careful to make no advances toward his old love Loi-mae, Naung is jealous--which intensifies his hostility toward the imminent arrival of the 30-some refugee Chinese soldiers. The foul Olevskoy immediately takes a lustful fancy toward the beautiful, pre-teen Lola. The village is threatened by attacks from the wild Wa--a fearsome, head-hunting tribe. So finally these ominous forces will converge in a violent, yet decorously inevitable, series of skirmishes. Becker (Dog Tags, The Last Mandarin) is a master of terse, ironic dialogue. His soundings of cross-cultural nuances are crisp and subtle. And if this lean, stately novel never generates either strong excitement or deep feeling, it's a quietly satisfying, sparely atmospheric piece of narrative craftsmanship--with informative Burma/China touches.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1982
Publisher: Random House