While not a generic “romance” novel, this book focuses on the vicissitudes of romantic relationships.
Flashing back and tracking forward, the novel lays bare the intimate details of four modern Chinese women against a backdrop of cultural misogyny that survives and perhaps even worsens with the Cultural Revolution. The book includes several scenes of shocking cruelty as well as graphic descriptions of sexual encounters. Tiao and Fan are sisters who share both love and rivalry. They are introduced as young children in a preface that hints at a dark secret about the death of a third female sibling. Along the way, they become involved with Youyou and Fei, and readers watch as the four women learn from their experiences of love, abandonment, abuse and, again, love.
Readers most likely to appreciate this book, the author's first to be translated into English, are those with an interest in feminist issues, as well as Chinese culture, politics and history.