In this slim volume, Wang Anyi, a Shanghai writer in her 30s, who like many of her generation spent eight years in rural exile during the Cultural Revolution, reminds us that the China of 200 million city dwellers, lately so evident on our TV screens, is far removed from the countryside that is home to more than 800 million peasants. Here, she joins other young Chinese writers ``seeking roots,'' and chronicles the rhythms of life in Baotown, a village both mythic and real, where everyone shares a common ancestor and the same last name, and all are wary of strangers. We learn of Picked-Up Feng, a young outsider who offends the whole village by marrying a widow twice his age. And in the sentimental fashion of much Chinese literature, we witness the growing affection between crusty old Fifth Grandfather and a little boy called Dregs, who dies trying to save the old man in a flood. Although the novel can be read simply as folktale, political China does intrude, even in remote Baotown, when the author describes how Dregs is institutionalized into a Communist ``Youth Hero'' once the Party propaganda machine hears of his untimely death. For those conscious of recent events in China, this seemingly simple tall tale will cast surprising light on the enduring heartland the TV cameras did not portray. ( Oct. )
Widely translated, and here appearing for the first time in English, Zhang's controversial 1981 prize-winning novel shows modern Beijing life through its description of the Morning Light Auto Works, the Four Modernizations, production quotas, the Ministry of Heavy Industry, and the Party. Unfamiliar perhaps, but these facts of life take on meaning through the characters: the reporter who loves her work, the devious politician, the loyal workers and their humane supervisor, the lovers, the idle wife. They have the universal concerns about work, gossip, a decent apartment, a good meal, family, and love. Because husbands and wives have different names, and peers use familiar names, the characters are sometimes difficult to keep straight. Still, this is an important work by one of China's best-known writers. Wang, a well-known young writer, brings to life the earthy yet complex inhabitants of an isolated Chinese hamlet. Each chapter tells a separate tale that eventually fits into the whole. Dregs, last child of a tired couple who is not so much unloved as unnoticed, befriends Fifth Grandfather, a sad end-of-the-liner (having no living relatives). Picked-up finds both happiness and strain in an unconventional living arrangement. Little Jade and Construction think they might be in love. Bao Bingde's crazy wife ``erupts'' again. The rural Baotown people, together with the urban Beijing people of Zhang's Heavy Wings , show that, though we may be geographically far apart, we are essentially the same in our humanity. Both books are highly recommended.-- Kitty Chen Dean, Nassau Coll., Garden City, N.Y.