From Chinese writer Wang Anyi (Lapse of Time, 1988; Baotown, 1989): a lyrical and emotionally intense account of a contemporary young woman whose life is shaped by a numbing sameness of work and home. The third in a trilogy, but the first of the series to be published in the US, this is the story of Miss Zhang (for whom life is a ``wasteland'')—an editor at a state-run publishing house where the workday is punctuated by bells ringing to indicate exercise and tea breaks; where hot water must be obtained from a boiler room downstairs and then stored in individual thermoses; and where dust must constantly be brushed from desktops and the bare concrete floor. The small apartment that Miss Zhang shares with her husband has one room, the kitchen in an alcove, and the communal bathroom down a corridor. Bored with her husband and her home (``it was only when she went out the door that her life started''), Miss Zhang is sent to represent her company at a writers' conference in Lushan, a famous mountain resort. There, over the ten-day conference, she begins an affair with a nameless famous writer—an affair that is more a celebration of exquisite sensibilities than raw passion, as they climb the 956 steps to the renowned Triple Springs or circle Brocade Valley, a place as well as a metaphor- -``no matter how they went they could not get out, and she realized that the event she had long been preparing for was now finally happening, they had found their source and refuge.'' But conferences must end, lovers must part, and marriages go on because neither has ``the courage to build, nor the resolution to walk away.'' Perhaps too old-fashioned and finely wrought for Western tastes, but beautifully subtle in its evocation of a woman's emerging independence in a society suffocated by tedium and conformity. A writer to watch. Read full book review >
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