A jaundiced view of post-communist chaos. No heroism, no transcendence, just all-too-human desperation.




Living out a dull, bad dream of botched politics, the stunted characters in these novellas exist in a no-man’s-land, halfway between the failed utopia of Chairman Mao and the promise of McDonald’s, Macintosh and MTV.

Gingerly, resentfully, a churlish young writer negotiates the task of helping his girlfriend’s ailing father pee into a bottle. It’s a humdrum humiliation for all concerned, but one that’s finally rewarded with “the poignant tinkle of water on plastic.” Of such small things, Zhu Wen, a leading light of the “New Generation” of Chinese writers who came of age in the shadow of Tiananmen Square, crafts bitter, tragicomic, poetic fiction. “A Hospital Night” isn’t much, plot-wise: Sick old man rages at smug youth. But the Worker’s Hospital where the action’s set functions fine as metaphor—nothing works there. Filial piety, the Confucian ideal, is a bankrupt mockery, and socialist camaraderie is a joke. The title story is even bleaker. Another callow writer goes trolling with his father for teenaged whores. Dad’s a mildly amiable tippler; the son’s an absolute cad, shacking up with a divorced older woman and then cheating on her. A sexaholic, he’s materialism run amuck: “If we’re not getting any otherwise and it’s being sold on the market, why shouldn’t we go and buy some?” “Pounds, Ounces, Meat” achieves a kind of Chekhovian surrealism: Yet one more disgruntled youngster, after falling for a girl “carrying a black parasol and a copy of I Love Dollars,” embarks on a quest to determine the true value of a pork filet. In the author’s China, everything’s a mess, from the drifting Yangtze River steamer in “A Boat Crossing” to the fouled-up factory in “Ah, Xiao Xie.”

A jaundiced view of post-communist chaos. No heroism, no transcendence, just all-too-human desperation.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2007

ISBN: 0-231-13694-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2006

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


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.


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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