Dream of the Walled City

Lisa Huang Fleischman, Author Atria Books $24.95 (432p) ISBN 978-0-671-04228-8
Earnest and emotionally astute, this sweeping historical novel opens in 1900, ""in the empire of China, in the red-earth province of Hunan, in the ancient walled city of Changsha."" Jade Virtue's father, the city magistrate, has recently died, and Jade's mother sells the family's mansion and moves with her three children--10-year-old Jade; Jade's older brother, Li Shi; and younger sister, Graceful Virtue--to a more modest home. The story begins in earnest eight years later, with Li Shi's desire for a commission in the military, which costs more money than the family has. To help her brother, Jade Virtue sacrifices her personal happiness by arranging a marriage for herself with the presumably wealthy son of a rich clan, the Pans. Unfortunately, she soon discovers that her husband is an opium addict, and his family is ruined. In order to support her in-laws, she begins teaching at a girls' middle school at the suggestion of her revolutionary friend Jin Yu, which shames her initially (working is still viewed as damaging to a woman's modesty) but ultimately fulfills her in ways she never expected. At this point, the coupling of history and personal narrative loses its seamless synchronicity. Sections dealing with the early history of the Communist movement and the story of the turbulent years leading up to WWII overshadow the quiet actions of an ordinary woman who happens to live in interesting times. After her ties to the Pans dissolve, Jade begins her life anew with a deputy magistrate, Wu Guai Er, building a family and home where she finally feels a sense of belonging. Although Jade Virtue's life neither parallels nor truly illuminates the political upheaval--which is best represented by Jin Yu's activities with the Communist Party (of particular interest is a young, magnetic Mao Zedong) and Li Shi's progression through the Guomindang military ranks eventually to become brigadier general of Hunan--it does pique the reader's interest in the tumultuous history of her country. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/04/2000
Release date: 09/01/2000
Prebound-Other - 978-0-606-21163-5
Paperback - 448 pages - 978-0-671-04229-5
Open Ebook - 432 pages - 978-1-4516-5742-5
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