cover image Peach Blossom Paradise

Peach Blossom Paradise

Ge Fei, trans. from the Chinese by Canaan Morse. New York Review Books, $17.95 trade paper (376p) ISBN 978-1-68137-470-3

Chinese writer Ge Fei (The Invisibility Cloak) begins a trilogy with an engrossing retelling of the Peach Blossom Paradise myth, about a fisherman who, after briefly discovering a utopian society hidden from the outside world, is unable to find it again. The story takes place during China’s failed Hundred Days’ Reform in 1898, and the myth serves as a metaphor for the fleeting idealism of revolutionaries. After a landowner vanishes from the Chinese village of Puji, an intellectual appears on the estate and openly challenges China’s dynastic traditions, captivating the landowner’s daughter, Xiumi. When the intellectual’s body later turns up bloated in a river, his diary is confiscated by Xiumi, who learns of his involvement in a shadowy pro-republic revolutionary group. Xiumi is then kidnapped into sexual slavery by criminals protected by the government, and after she escapes, she becomes radicalized and determines to organize her village against rural anarchy and imperialist rapacity. Rather than offering a well-trodden narrative of romance and revolution, Ge Fei shows that a determined revolutionary isn’t necessarily a shrewd one. Xiumi fails to revolutionize Puji and pays dearly for her attempt. Whether the cost was worth it may be what the subsequent volumes seek to answer in this stirring, illuminating saga. (Oct.)