The Red Chamber

Pauline A. Chen. Knopf, $26.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-307-70157-2
YA author Chen's debut novel for adults is a modern retelling of Cao Xueqin's 18th-century Chinese classic, Dream of the Red Chamber. While it doesn't hold a candle to the original in length or its Tolstoy-esque cast of characters, this revamped version retains much of its predecessor's spirit. Focusing mostly on three female characters—once sequestered 17-year-old Daiyu, who is shipped off to live with her unknown rich relatives in Beijing after her mother's death; ornery 23-year-old Xifeng, whose husband conspicuously cheats on her; and matronly18-year-old Xue Baochai, an earnest shadow of a girl in love with Baoyu, Daiyu's charming cousin—Chen (Peiling and the Chicken-Friend Christmas) plumps the epic tale full of lavish details of the palace, sumptuous feasts, and day-to-day minutiae, levitating whispered conversations overheard by the wrong parties, capricious scheming between family members, and gossip hidden beneath every elegant tapestry and beaded pillow to lofted heights. Aside from the entertaining love triangle between Daiyu, Baochai, and Baoyu, there's much to do about more serious matters, too—especially in the latter half of the novel, when political unrest in Beijing threatens to destroy the family's tenuous hierarchy. For those familiar with the original, there's also a different ending. Supplemental material includes an author's note, the Jia family tree, and a list of major characters. First printing: 60,000. (July)
Reviewed on: 08/13/2012
Release date: 07/01/2012
Genre: Fiction
Compact Disc - 978-0-449-00883-6
Compact Disc - 978-0-449-00881-2
Paperback - 448 pages - 978-1-84408-796-9
Open Ebook - 310 pages - 978-0-307-95841-9
Paperback - 381 pages - 978-0-307-94656-0
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio

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