Rice

Su Tong, Author, Howard Goldblatt, Translator, T'Ung Su, Author
Su Tong, Author, Howard Goldblatt, Translator, T'Ung Su, Author William Morrow & Company $23 (266p) ISBN 978-0-688-13245-3
Reviewed on: 03/01/1999
Release date: 03/01/1999
Paperback - 266 pages - 978-0-14-025644-4
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-06-059632-3
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Swinging from lurid melodrama to stark tragedy, Su Tong's scorching tale chronicles a family torn apart by anger, insults, murder and self-destructiveness in pre-Communist China from WWI's aftermath to the Japanese occupation in the 1930s. Five Dragons, an orphaned, provincial vagabond, becomes a clerk in the Feng family's urban rice shop and marries widower Feng's loose daughter, Cloud Weave, who is pregnant by a thug. After Cloud Weave runs off with her newborn son to become the concubine of the child's presumed father, Five Dragons immediately beds her jealous sister, Cloud Silk, on a pile of storeroom rice. Su Tong (Raise the Red Lantern) employs rice, symbol of Chinese civilization and heaven's bounty, to daring, iconoclastic effect throughout the novel: a dead baby tumbles out of a new rice shipment; Five Dragons, who becomes the Feng clan's domineering patriarch, uses rice to sexually disfigure prostitutes whom he murders in revenge for the venereal disease he has contracted; a boy suffocates his baby sister in rice because she squeals on him. Spinning a plot featuring blackmail, adultery, incest and scandal, Su Tong creates visceral drama that moves rapidly in Goldblatt's fluid translation. The dialogue is raw, the sex is related with violent candor. There's nothing pretty in Su Tong's picture of poisoned family and social life, but there's much that's beautiful in the way he portrays it-with seething energy and anger. (Sept.)
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