Foreign Devil

Wang Ping, Author, Ping Wang, Author
Wang Ping, Author, Ping Wang, Author Coffee House Press $21.95 (280p) ISBN 978-1-56689-048-9
Reviewed on: 09/02/1996
Release date: 09/01/1996
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Wang Ping's praised first collection of interlocked short stories, American Visa, featured a heroine, Seaweed, whose background resembled that of the protagonist of this strong and provocative--and obviously equally autobiographical--novel. Like Seaweed, Ni Bing grows up during the Cultural Revolution and its equally horrifying aftermath, as the daughter of a naval officer and a harsh, abusive mother who uses her as a virtual slave for household chores. Like Seaweed, Ni Bing is determined to escape her family and to acquire a college education. Given nicknames like ""foreign devil"" and ""little ghost,"" she endures hardships and privations both in her family home, on a fishing island off the Chinese coast, and in a rural ""reeducation'' village. From the time she is five years old, Ni Bing is plagued by her knowledge that there is a secret surrounding her birth. Her hard life in the village of Ma Ao, where she lives from the ages of 15 to 22, exposes her to the repressive Communist Party machinery. As her comrades are victimized by the cruelty and injustice of the campaign to eradicate enemies of the state, Ni Bing practices self-preservation and learns to hide her anguish. As she exists on an emotional tightrope of fear and anxiety, it is perhaps inevitable that she will lose her virginity to a married man who makes her feel needed. Meanwhile, the mystery of her identity and of her parents' volatile behavior--both send her mixed signals of hatred and love--continues to weigh on her mind until, finally, knowledge sets her free. While Wang portrays Ni Bing's emotional torment with moving insight, she sometimes tries the reader's patience with awkward flashbacks. But the scenes depicting the brutality of China's repressive society are as searing as those in Anchee Min's Red Azalea, and Ping writes with compelling candor about an authoritative regime where the experiences of victim and torturer are often interchangeable. (Sept.)
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