BAOTOWN by Wang Anyi


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A smoothly translated small jewel of a novel from one of China's brightest young writers. Wang (Lapse of Time, 1988) tells with masterful delicacy and subtle imagination the chronicle of a tiny fictitious Chinese town--Baotown, The book opens with spectacular images of a flood lifted, amazingly, from Genesis. Soon, a kind of postmodern Chinese fable emerges, dressed eerily like a tall tale from the bag of Latin American magical realism. The story focuses on the close bond between a young boy named Dregs and a cantankerous old man named Fifth Grandfather. One day the boy dies attempting to protect the elder. When a local would-be novelist reports the story in a local newspaper, Dregs is seized upon as a national hero and role model For Chinese youth. Quiet Baotown--otherwise miles from the turbulent Gang of Four power struggle that is distant background here--is suddenly placed on the national map as a fabled seedbed for the production of great men and inspiring acts. Wang's telling is laced with subtle ironies having to do with the way myth and propaganda are shaped in a country both deeply superstitious and dutifully Communist. Her characters are drawn lightly, her prose breezes. Short chapters make the story run rapidly, with its spare structure suitable to the parable quality it evokes. A deceptively slight, hypnotic little tale that stands as further evidence of the increasing range and sophistication of contemporary Chinese fiction.

Pub Date: Oct. 9th, 1989
Publisher: Norton