RAISE THE RED LANTERN

THREE NOVELLAS

From a member of China's New Wave, three novellas of a disturbing intensity make their US debut—including ``Raise the Red Lantern,'' the basis of an acclaimed 1991 film. Set in provincial China of the 1930's, all three stories evoke a place where a concubine might have attended college and a landlord's son might have learned to play tennis at his boarding school—but where the harsh old ways still prevail. Women, even the most spirited, are broken by men's brutality and by other women's spite. In the title piece, Lotus has to leave college to become the fourth concubine of a rich merchant when her bankrupt father commits suicide. Only one of the three other women is friendly; the rest plot and spy on her. Lonely and unhappy, Lotus is drawn to a quiet courtyard in the compound where a well stands under a wisteria vine—a sinister place with a sinister reputation: it's rumored that adulterous concubines are thrown into the well. When Lotus observes shadowy figures throwing in the third concubine, her friend Coral, who's been found with another man, she retreats into insanity. ``Nineteen Thirty-four Escapes'' is an equally harsh account of a momentous year—1934—in one family. The father has left to work in a town where he takes a mistress; meanwhile, back in the village and pregnant with her seventh child, his wife, Grandmother Jiang, ekes out a living planting rice for the local landlord. When the eldest child runs away to join his father, and five others die from cholera, she has only one option. Finally, ``Opium Family'' details the last years of a rich landowning family whose horrible demise is brought about by corruption—they grow and sell opium—lust, and treachery. No day-brighteners these, but distinctive prose searingly describes men and women brutally shaped by their time and place. A writer to watch.

Pub Date: July 26, 1993

ISBN: 0-688-12217-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1993

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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