From Publishers Weekly
Reading popular, irreverent Chinese essayist and novelist Wang, who died in 1997 at 44, can feel like being held upside down—particularly during the zingy sex scenes. Characters cultivate an artful irrelevance to circumvent official stricture, and fail most every time. In the first work, "2015," the narrator's uncle, Wang Er, is a painter without a government permit to paint; his paintings are so stridently fractal that they make people dizzy. Sent for re-education, he readily admits his stupidity, but is undone when a female guard takes a very twisted interest in him. "The Golden Age" concerns another Wang Er: a 21-year-old, well-endowed Beijing student sent to the Yunan countryside during the Mao period. There, he runs off with a married doctor. Told to confess on returning, Wang, ironically, becomes a writer, as his superiors insist on more and more pornographic detail in every revised version of his confessions. The slighter final story, "East Palace, West Palace," relates a story about a policeman who falls in love with a bisexual cross-dresser. Wang's deeply convincing novellas will certainly please the readers who have enjoyed recent Nobel Prize–winner Gao Xingjian's novel, Soul Mountain.(Mar.)
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*Starred Review* Wang (1952-97) has a large following among Chinese university students but isn't at all popular with the literary establishment. Blame the matter and attitude of his work, not its literary merit. China has a history of heavy-handed prudishness that the sex in these three novellas flouts big time. They're wry social-realist exercises demonstrating that in a repressive society, whether of the future, the Cultural Revolution, or post-Mao but still policed 1990s China, sex affords the only excitement worth risking slander or prison for. And if it weren't for imagination, sex might be drab. If the narrator of "2015" weren't obsessed with being an artist, would he so ardently follow his artist uncle's misadventures, which eventuate in being a luscious policewoman's sex toy? If they could redeem their reputations, would the lovers undergoing forcible "re-education" in "The Golden Age" breath so heavily? Would the handsome cop in "East Palace, West Palace" discover his homosexuality if he weren't such a socially determined straight arrow? Not sex but sensation, with the possibility, however slight, of transcendence, becomes the supreme value for these stories' characters--a predicament not unlike that of Jake Barnes and company in Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. Ray Olson
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