cover image The Bathing Women

The Bathing Women

Tie Ning, trans. from the Chinese by Hongling Zhang and Jason Sommer. Scribner, $25 (368p) ISBN 978-1-4516-9484-0

Tie%E2%80%99s English-language debut traces the relationships that enmesh Tiao, a girl who lives through China%E2%80%99s Cultural Revolution to become a successful publisher in the 1990s. Left on their own while their parents are made to labor at Reed River Farm, Tiao and her sister Fan are inseparable. Their mother, Wu, agrees to sleep with a doctor in order to get sick leave and stay at home with the children. She tries to conceal the resulting pregnancy, but the doctor%E2%80%99s sophisticated and reckless niece, Fei, arrives and tells Tiao that her %E2%80%9Cmom is a bad woman, a whore!%E2%80%9D The loner Fei and Tiao, however, soon become friends and, along with another child, Youyou, form a lifelong alliance. An accident with ominous overtones forces Tiao and Fan to examine what drives sisters apart. Eventually Fan marries and moves to America. And Tiao, after a tumultuous affair with a movie star, finds solace in a friendship with a married man and childhood friend, although the relationship raises questions about the sacrifices made so others can be happy. Set amidst shifting cultural values, this is a psychologically astute portrait of four women struggling to satisfy their appetites for food, camaraderie, family, community, sex, and love. (Oct.)