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Raise the Red Lantern


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About the Author

Su Tong was born in Suzhou in 1963 and graduated from Beijing Normal University with a degree in Chinese literature. He is the author of Raise the Red Lantern, also available from Perennial. Su Tong lives in Nanjing.


The first novella in the collection was originally entitled ``Wives and Concubines,'' but the title of the successful movie version has stuck. The story focuses on the rigid, inhuman, and yet unwritten rules of a feudal Chinese household, in which any transgression on the part of the concubines, sexual or otherwise, results in death or madness. This exploration of the dark intersections of power, politics, money, and sex runs through all three novellas. In the remaining two works, which focus on the countryside of China in the 1930s, sexual obsession is mixed in with the daily struggle of the tenant farmers to survive and the boundless greed of the landlords. The use of magical realism allows thereader to appreciate the complexity of reconstructing historical reality through fiction while giving the dark stories a sense of airiness. Su Tong is in the vanguard of the literary transformations in China that began following the Cultural Revolution in 1976 when literary creations started to move away from the party line and began to probe the sometimes unsavory realities. Recommended for most libraries.-- Cherry W. Li, Univ. of Southern Californa Lib., Los Angeles

This trio of novellas deals with the Chinese peasantry and the fading bourgeoisie in the era before the 1949 revolution. The title piece was adapted into an acclaimed 1992 film of the same name; the book's publication coincides with the release of Raise the Red Lantern on video. In this story, 19-year-old Lotus abandons her college studies upon her father's suicide to become Fourth Mistress to middle-aged Chen Zuoqian. While the text primarily explores Lotus's relationships with other members of the extended Chen family, especially elder concubines Joy, Cloud and Coral, the plot ultimately turns on adultery, retribution and madness. Su's prose is sometimes dense with long, twisted sentences, but his unsentimental portrait of a young woman's lonely life leaves the reader chilled. The second novella, ``1934 Escapes,'' chronicles a year of dark events in the history of a very different Chen family, peasants struggling against plague, poverty and jealousy. The first-person narration uncovers long-buried skeletons, and the prose reflects the hand-me-down quality of oral history: nothing is known for certain, but nothing is disbelieved. ``Opium Family'' traces the downfall of the Liu clan, decadent landowning opium growers about whom little is clear except the violence that surrounds their lives. Su moves between first- and third-person narrators with great effect in this work, the most structurally and thematically complex of the novellas. ( July )

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