Loving Sabotage

Amelie Nothomb, Author, Andrew Wilson, Translator
Amelie Nothomb, Author, Andrew Wilson, Translator New Directions Publishing Corporation $23.95 (136p) ISBN 978-0-8112-1459-9
Reviewed on: 10/02/2000
Release date: 10/01/2000
Paperback - 144 pages - 978-0-8112-1782-8
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Readers who have yet to discover the feather-ruffling pleasures of reading popular Belgian author Nothomb (The Stranger Next Door), winner of the Prix du Roman de L'Academie Francaise and other prizes, should jump at the chance with this utterly disarming send-up of a precocious seven-year-old girl's collision with Communist China. Based on the author's experiences as the daughter of diplomats stationed in Peking (Beijing) from 1972 to 1975, the work is a frequently hilarious first-person account of an intrepid heroine who discovers life's ironies through the warped prism 0f CommunismDthat freedom springs from oppression and beauty blossoms where ugliness prevails. The narrator's family is warehoused in the foreigners' ghetto, San Li Tun, where the numerous unsupervised children of various nationalities spend their time fashioning an elaborate and ruthless game of war, designating the East German contingent as the enemy. When exquisite Elena, an unfeeling Italian six-year-old, arrives in the ghetto, the narrator's cheerful savagery is sabotaged by her obsessive love for the imperious beauty. While the narrator goes to ridiculous and heartrending lengths to make her adoration known to Elena, Nothomb interjects her brilliantly simple observations regarding the Communist regime: the running of a school art contest was like a ""Rumanian electoral campaign""; the family's Chinese interpreter , Mr. Chang, disappears, only to be replaced by a woman who insists on being called Comrade Chang. With deadpan, ironical bite, Nothomb re-creates a child's insular, supremely egocentric world. While the Chinese setting is evocative, this short novel will benefit from targeting to any reader who is sympathetic to a child's view of the world. (Oct.)
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