cover image The Dream of Confucius

The Dream of Confucius

Jean Levi. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P, $22.95 (294pp) ISBN 978-0-15-126570-1

The confusion and chaos of China in the third century B.C. percolates throughout French sinologist Levi's second novel, in deliberate contrast to the portrait of the austerely ordered world third-century B.C. China presented in the author's Prix de Goncourt-winning The Chinese Emperor. Whet-Iron, the eventual founder of the Han dynasty, struggles with his rival Plume to assert his power after the fall of the Ch'in order. An unlikely victor, Whet-Iron is neither particularly talented nor shrewd; addressing the riddle of Whet-Iron's victory, Levi attributes his success to fate, a vehicle represented here by hexagrams taken from the I Ching. The intellectual underpinnings of this novel are unassailable, but the historical turbulence and disorder that Levi hopes to convey spill over into the narrative itself--a profusion of minor characters and minor story lines floods the work. Levi demands much of his readers, and his rewards may not justify their efforts. (Oct.)