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Shanghai Baby


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This semiautobiographical novel explores the conflicting feelings involved in love and passion. Coco is a would-be novelist, working as a Shanghai cafe waitress, who is torn between two lovers - one impotent, the other passionate.

About the Author

Wei Hui lives in Shanghai and is a graduate of the prestigious Fudan University. She is 27. This is her first novel.


Although it caused an uproar in the author's native China, Western readers will find 27-year-old Wei Hui's semiautobiographical offering reminiscent of fiction by the brat pack writers of the '80s, though more clich?d and less edgy. Waitress Nikki "but my friends call me Coco after Coco Chanel" is in love with Tian Tian, a melancholy and impotent artist who falls prey to narcotics. Coco loves him madly, but not so madly that she wants to give up sex, and this is why she's also been seeing Mark, a married German businessman. Coco's deceptions, Tian Tian's problems with his wealthy mother (who he suspects killed his father) and the intertwining worlds of art and fashion are all fodder for Coco's upcoming slice-of-lifestyle novel, in which Shanghai's privileged 20-somethings are shown in their natural habitat of clubs and coffeehouses. Beneath the techno beat, though, the sore subject of Western imperialism its avatars, this time, multinational managers still lurks. Among Coco's friends, one known as Madonna stands out in particular: she earned a fortune first as a madam and then as the widow of a rich man. Wei Hui evidently wants to imitate her heroes, the beats and Henry Miller, and relishes observations like "our bodies were already tarnished, and our minds beyond help." But she spends more time analyzing people by the brands they use and the cars they drive, thus giving the book an odd air of beat fluff, as if Jack Kerouac had mated with Judith Krantz. The book is as alluring as a gossip column, but, alas, as shallow as one, too. (Sept. 11) Forecast: Forty thousand copies of Shanghai Baby were burned by the Chinese government. Proving censors make the best publicists, rights were subsequently sold in 19 countries 200,000 copies are in print in Japan alone. U.S. media curiosity is already high, but the resulting sales bounce may be minor. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Wei Hui's debut novel, which was banned in China, delves deep into the dark and glittering heart of Shanghai, as experienced by a hopeful and hedonistic young novelist, Nikki (better known to her friends as Coco, after the also irrepressibly glamorous Coco Chanel). Although deeply in love with her impotent artist boyfriend Tian Tian, the frustrated Coco takes a successful German businessman as a lover. What follows is the painful and explicit sexual and vocational journey of a young woman in search of her true self, attempting to gain control of her own trajectory as nefarious forces work on her from both within and without. Indeed, it seems almost as if the city's over-the-top materialism drives its inhabitants toward adultery and dark passions, forcing them at once into the dual role of victim/accomplice. It is just such paradoxes that make Wei Hui's novel so complex and thought-provoking: she deftly explores the intimate relationships that belie the seeming oppositions of East and West, love and desire, the natural and the artificial, hedonism and spiritualism. Haunting and resonant, Shanghai Baby proves the existence of the sacred in the profane. For all Chinese literature and contemporary fiction collections. Tania Barnes, "Library Journal" Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Escellent. - HeatA steamy Chinese novel in the Western style about life in contemporary China...condemned for exploring subjects that are completely taboo in modern Chinese literature. - The TimesWei Hui is intelligent and a passionte spokesperson for modern China. - Marie ClaireShanghai Baby is beautifully written, and the author cleary combines the qualities of natural feeling for writing with intelligence.

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