Rene Leys

Victor Sagalen, Author, Victor Segalen, Author, J. A. Underwood, Translator Overlook Press $24.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-87951-324-5
Like many Europeans of his time, Segalen (1878-1919) became entranced by ``orientalism.'' A novice doctor, he visited the South Sea Islands in the wake of Gauguin, and later went to China as an interpreter. Segalen admitted that China provided him the screen on which to project his most exotic fantasies. The protagonist of the novel is a thinly disguised representation of Maurice Roy, a young Frenchman skilled in Chinese language and culture whom Segalen hired as a tutor while both were in Peking. This fictionalized account of their friendship is marked by the quaint and prurient attitudes Europeans revealed toward the inscrutable East. The narrator often rephrases the query, ``Can a normal, nubile European love a Chinese woman . . . above all, can he be loved by her?'' But Leys is already the Empress's lover, and is doomed. The narrator's tone sounds fussy and mannered, perhaps due in part to the translation. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 12/01/1988
Release date: 12/01/1988
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