Xinran Xue, Author, Xinran Xinran, Author , trans. from the Chinese by Esther Tyldesley. Pantheon $24 (256p) ISBN 978-0-375-42201-0

In 1988, Xinran (née Xue Hue) was selected to work in state media and ended up at the Nanjing radio station, where she began broadcasting "Words on the Night Breeze" a year later. The show featured letters and calls from ordinary women discussing their problems, and was hugely successful and revelatory, as women had few avenues, public or private, for talking about their lives, which were frequently grim and often harrowing. Xinran quit the show in 1995 to try to help her listeners directly, but by 1997 she had burned out. She persuaded the radio station authorities to let her travel to England, where she began teaching Chinese, met and married English book agent Toby Eady and wrote this memoir of her experiences on the program, including a compendium of some of the most painful of the "Night Breeze" stories. She presents narratives from women who live "in emotionless political marriages" and those, the majority, who struggle "amid poverty and hardship." They have commonly experienced sexual abuse: rape, frequently gang rape. Apparently designed to bring the women's horrific stories to light, the book doesn't do enough to situate them clearly in the context of the show as a state-produced product, or within Xinran's own difficulties in processing and presenting the material on the air (or in this book). The results will leave readers sympathetic to the grave enormity of the women's circumstances, but—due perhaps to minor translation problems and Xinran's lingering political worries—somewhat confused about how Xinran tried to deal with their plights. (Oct. 8)

Forecast:This book includes a very incomplete bio, but diligent reviewers will find an interview Xinran did with the Guardian in July. While the focus should be on the situation of women in China, look for media interest in Xinran's own story, which includes severe childhood trials, to drive sales of the book.

Reviewed on: 08/26/2002
Release date: 10/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
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