The Interior (Liu Hulan Series #2)

( 24 )

Overview

“See paints a fascinating portrait of a complex and enigmatic society, in which nothing is ever quite as it appears, and of the people, peasant and aristocrat alike, who are bound by its subtle strictures.”
–San Diego Union-Tribune

While David Stark is asked to open a law office in Beijing, his lover, detective Liu Hulan, receives an urgent message from an old friend imploring her to investigate the suspicious death of her daughter, who worked ...

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Overview

“See paints a fascinating portrait of a complex and enigmatic society, in which nothing is ever quite as it appears, and of the people, peasant and aristocrat alike, who are bound by its subtle strictures.”
–San Diego Union-Tribune

While David Stark is asked to open a law office in Beijing, his lover, detective Liu Hulan, receives an urgent message from an old friend imploring her to investigate the suspicious death of her daughter, who worked for a toy company about to be sold to David’s new client, Tartan Enterprises.

Despite David’s protests, Hulan goes undercover at the toy factory in the rural village of Da Shui, deep in the heart of China. It is a place that forces Hulan to face a past she has long been running from. Once there, rather than finding answers to the girl’s death, Hulan unearths more questions, all of which point to possible crimes committed by David’s client. Suddenly Hulan and David find themselves on opposing sides: One of them is trying to expose a company and unearth a killer, while the other is ethically bound to protect his client. As pressures mount and danger increases, Hulan and David uncover universal truths about good and evil, right and wrong–and the sometimes subtle lines that distinguish them.

“[See] illuminates tradition and change, Western and Eastern cultural differences. . . . All this in the middle of her thriller which is also about greed, corruption, abuse of the disadvantaged, the desperation of those on the bottom of the food chain, and love.”
–The Tennessean

“Sophisticated . . . graceful . . . See’s picture of contemporary China’s relationship with the United States is aptly played out through her characters.”
Los Angeles Times

“Immediate, haunting and exquisitely rendered.”
–San Francisco Chronicle

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
As in her debut novel, Flower Net, the strength of See's work here is in her detailed and intimate knowledge of contemporary China, its mores, its peculiar mixture of the traditional and the contemporary, and its often bedeviled relationships with the U.S. Here again are American lawyer David Stark and his Chinese lover, police investigator Liu Hulan; they become involved in the issue of working conditions among women in an American-owned toy factory in rural China--a highly promising and original notion. Stark's law firm wants him to supervise the buyout of the American entrepreneur who launched the toy company, while Liu is called in by the mother of a factory worker who seems to have committed suicide. What actually happened to her, and why? It seems inevitable that the lovers will be pulled in different directions by their opposing interests, and soon Liu has introduced herself into the factory as a worker, while Stark's deal, important to his career, begins to unravel. So far, so good; but as the action becomes increasingly violent, with another girl's sudden death at the factory, gunplay, a deathly sick Liu struggling to survive, and a climactic fire that takes hundreds of lives (a calamity treated almost as an afterthought), it becomes apparent that See has plotting problems. Many story threads seem to disappear, the action scenes are stagy and unconvincing, and the David-Liu relationship never seems to generate much real warmth. A pity, because until the melodrama takes over, much here is original and fresh, an absorbing look at an unfamiliar world. Agent, Sandra Dijkstra. 6-city author tour. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine
At the center of The Interior is Chinese police inspector Liu Hulan, who is beautiful, smart, and very serious about her work...But the fascination here is See's portrait of modern-day China and the people who have lived through so much in recent history.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812978698
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/31/2007
  • Series: Liu Hulan Series , #2
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 120,822
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Lisa See
Lisa See
Lisa See may not appear to fit the standard conception of a Chinese-American woman, but her deep roots in her Chinese background have set her on a path leading her to being one of the most significant Asian-American voices in contemporary writing.

Biography

At first glance, Lisa See would not seem to be a likely candidate for literary voice of Chinese-American women. With her flaming red hair and freckled complexion, she hardly adheres to any stereotypical conceptions of what an Asian-American woman should look like, however, her familial background has given her roots in Chinese culture that have fueled her eloquent, elegant, and exciting body of work.

See grew up in the Chinatown section of Los Angeles. Although she is only 1/8 Chinese, her upbringing provided her with a powerful connection to that fraction of herself. "I really grew up in this very traditional, old Chinese family," she revealed in an interview with Barnes & Noble.com. "It was very traditional, but also quite magical in a lot of ways, because I really was in a very different culture then how I looked."

See's Chinese background was not the only aspect of her family that affected the course her life has taken. She also comes from a long line of writers and novelists. Her somewhat morose relatives initially led her to believe that writing must be the result of suffering and pain, which turned her off from literary pursuits at first. Ironically, despite her strong family roots, See only decided to try her hand at writing as a means of embarking on a lifestyle without roots. "I knew three things," See said, "I never wanted to get married, I never wanted to have children, and I only wanted to live out of a suitcase. How am I gonna do it? And I was really thinking about it, and then one morning, I woke up, and it was truly like a light bulb went off—‘Oh, I could be a writer!' Many, many years later, here I am, married, I have children, [and] I am a writer."

In the wake of this unexpected epiphany, Lisa See began work on her first book On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family. This highly detailed family history charted the events that led her great-grandfather Fong See to become the godfather of her Chinatown neighborhood and the 100-year-old patriarch of her family. See interviewed close to 100 of her relatives while researching the book that both gave her a clearer portrait of how her racially mixed family developed and broke her into the publishing business.

See then went on to explore other aspects of both Chinese and American culture via fiction. She followed her debut with a series of popular political thrillers set in China and featuring American attorney David Stark. Her novel Snow Flower and the Secret Fan abandons Stark and his pursuit of justice for the time being with a tale that reaches much further back into Chinese culture, and more specifically, the subordinate role women have traditionally played in that culture. This more personal novel scored See accolades from The Washington Post, The New York Times, Publisher's Weekly, and The School Library Journal, while also further solidifying her role as a significant Chinese-American writer. And See's Peony in Love (2007) is a jarring historical novel set against the backdrop of an early-17th-century Chinese opera

See's position in the Chinese-American community has also extended beyond her writing. She was honored by the Organization of Chinese American Women as National Woman of the Year in 2001 and is also responsible for designing a walking tour of her Chinatown home in L.A. Her devotion to that apparently-small, but actually-vast, 1/8 of her ethnicity proves that well-worn adage about never judging a book by looking at its cover.

Good To Know

In our interview, See shared lots of fun facts and anecdotes about herself, including:

"I asked my husband what he thought was an interesting fact about me, and he said that he always thought it was strange that when we first met I had to drink three cups of coffee before I got out of bed, but that after I got pregnant I never ever had another cup of coffee again. That didn't seem terribly exciting, so I asked my sister. She said that I take perverse pleasure in grossing people out, which I do. But this didn't seem very interesting either. I asked my mother and she remembered that I'd been a demon crawler and had once crawled away from the house, down to a busy boulevard, and was rescued by a couple of barbers. So I was a demon crawler and probably took ten years off my mother's life that day, but was it a fun fact? I've even asked some other people and they all have talked about my desire to travel and the scary places I have traveled alone. While I know that I'm a compulsive traveler, a lot of other people love to travel, so it still doesn't seem that unusual to me."

"I never wanted to be a writer. My mother and my grandfather were both writers. When I was a kid, they both took the position that writing was about suffering and pain, so you can see why I didn't want to be a writer. There came a time when I was about twenty and living in Greece, and I knew three things: I didn't want to get married, I didn't want to have children, and I only wanted to live out of a suitcase. But how was I going to support myself and how was this ever going to happen? One morning I woke up and it was like a light bulb went off: ‘Ah, I could be a writer.' Within twenty-four hours of returning back to the States I had my first two magazine assignments. But if you've been reading this at all closely, you know that I got married and had children. And thank God, because I would have been a pretty boring person and not a very good writer if I didn't have those three people in my life. But I still do love to live out of a suitcase and have been writing most of these answers on a plane from Shanghai to San Francisco."

"I think one of the strangest things about me is the way I read books. This dates back to when I started reading chapter books as a kid and continues to this day. I read the first 20 pages, then the last 20 pages. After that, the second 20 pages and the penultimate 20 pages. I read from front to back and from back to front until I meet in the middle. Why? I can't stand not knowing what happens to the characters. Will they be okay? Will they live? Will they get together? It doesn't take away from the suspense or ruin the story for me in any way. Not doing it would ruin the story because I would have to rush and I'd be so anxious that I wouldn't be able to do anything else until I was done."

"I'm a movie fanatic. I see more than 100 movies a year. Sometimes I'll see two or three movies in a day. Between this and reading books the way I do, I have a very good sense of plot. I can watch the first five minutes of any television show and the first ten minutes of just about any movie and tell you everything that will happen. It's very rare that I'm taken by complete surprise. But to me it isn't about the surprise. I'm just curious to see how things have been structured, if the right clues have been doled out, and if the right people will get together."

"I like to eat, but I don't like to cook. I'll eat anything and have—a low point would have to be the stir-fried pig penis in China—but there are only three things I won't eat: lima beans, brains, and kidneys. I hate exercise, but I love to play tennis, walk, and hike. I love stories in any form: film, books, song, and TV. Yes, I'm a real couch potato! I'm a nut for reality shows like ‘Survivor' and ‘American Idol.' My three favorite shows this season are ‘The OC,' ‘Lost,'and ‘Battlestar Gallactica.' And I'm a not-so-closet Trekkie. (Yes, I've even been to Star Trek conventions, but I blame that on my sons.) For so long I would say I hated sci-fi, and then I finally realized that it was one of my favorite genres. Go figure. My favorite way to unwind? That would have to be sleeping, hands down. I love to sleep and I take it very seriously. We recently got a Tempur-Pedic mattress and it's my favorite purchase ever. I long to go to bed and feel enveloped."

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    1. Hometown:
      Los Angeles, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 18, 1955
    2. Place of Birth:
      Paris, France
    1. Education:
      B.A., Loyola Marymount University, 1979
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

This morning, as every morning this summer in Beijing, Liu Hulan woke before dawn to the deafening sounds of drums, cymbals, gongs, and, worst of all, the horrible squeals of a suo-na, a many-piped wind instrument that resounded for blocks, maybe even miles. Competing to be heard over the instruments were the exuberant voices, cheers, and yelps of the Shisha Hutong Yang Ge Folk Dance and Music Troupe. This was the beginning of what would be a three-hour session, and this morning it appeared to be taking place directly outside Hulan's family compound.

Hulan hurriedly wrapped her silk robe around her, slipped on a pair of tennis shoes, and stepped outside onto the covered veranda outside her bedroom. Though it was only four, the air was already thick as custard with heat, humidity, and smog. Once the summer solstice passed, Beijingers prepared for the arrival of Xiao Shu, or Slight Heat Days. But this year Da Shu, Great Heat, had come early. This past week had seen five straight days with temperatures over forty-two degrees centigrade and humidity hovering at about ninety-eight percent.

Hulan quickly crossed the innermost courtyard, passing the other pavilions where in the old days the different branches of her extended family had lived. On the steps of one of these, her mother's nurse—already dressed in simple cotton trousers and a short-sleeve white blouse—waited for her. "Hurry, Hulan. Make them stop. Your mother is bad this morning." Hulan didn't respond, she didn't need to. She and the nurse had followed this routine now for the past three weeks.

Hulan reached the first courtyard, pushed open the gate, and stepped into the alleyway that ran beforeher family compound. There were perhaps seventy people here, all of them senior citizens. Most were dressed in pink silk tunics, while a few wore electric green. The latter, Hulan had learned a week ago, had come from the Heavenly Gate Dance Brigade after an argument about who would lead the dancing in their own neighborhood. The people looked colorful and—Hulan had to admit it—rather sweet in their costumes: Sequins decorated their fans, while glittering tinsel and tufts of white fluff fluttered in time to the music. The bodies of the old people happily gyrated to the drums and cymbals in a dance that was a cross between the bunny hop and the stroll.

"Friends, neighbors," Hulan called out, trying to be heard, "please, I must ask you to move." Of course no one paid her any attention. Hulan stepped into the dancers just as they began marching out of their circle and into rows. "Oh, Inspector! Beautiful morning!" This greeting came from Ri Lihan, a woman in her eighties who lived five compounds away. Before Hulan could respond, Madame Ri twirled away.

Hulan tried to stop first one, then another dancer, but always they slipped past, laughing, their wrinkled faces flushed and sweaty. Hulan made her way through the dancers to the musicians. The cheeks of the man blowing on the suo-na were puffed out and red. The sound emanating from that instrument was high, loud, and discordant. Speech was impossible, but when the musicians saw Hulan pat at the pockets of her robe, they exchanged knowing glances. They had seen their neighbor, Liu Hulan, do this before. She was looking for her Ministry of Public Security identification, but, as was so often the case on these early morning excursions, she had left it behind. The musicians beamed and nodded agreeably to the inspector.

Still clanking, drumming, and blowing, the musicians slowly set off down the alley. Following this cue, the old folks—continuing their dancing rhythm—filed past Hulan. She waited for Madame Zhang to pirouette by, but when she didn't Hulan walked to the old woman's home, silently cursing this current wave of nostalgia to sweep through the city. One month it was restaurants celebrating "the long-past good days" of the Cultural Revolution; the next month there was a run on collectible Mao buttons. One month there was a craze for Western-style white wine mixed with Coca-Cola and ice; the next month old people were bringing their rumpled yang ge costumes and instruments out of trunks and closets and taking to the streets like a bunch of teenagers.

Yang ge music had originated among the peasants of China's northeast and had been brought to Beijing by the People's Liberation Army in 1949. Now, after years of deprivations and political upheavals, the old people had resurrected twin passions—dancing and singing. The only problems—and they were big ones as far as Hulan was concerned—were the time of day and the noise. China, although a large country, operated on one time zone. While in the far west farmers might not go to their fields until the sun came up at nine, in Beijing the day started unconscionably early. Psychologically Hulan hated waking up before six, let alone four in the morning, to the ungodly racket of the Yang ge troupe.

This constant clamoring had also been extremely upsetting to Hulan's mother. Rather than filling Liu Jinli with sentimental longings or carefree memories, these raucous sounds made the older woman quite querulous. Since the Cultural Revolution, Jinli had been confined to a wheelchair and still suffered from bouts of catatonia. During the first weeks that she'd come back to the quiet of the hutong, her health had improved considerably. But with the Yang ge music stirring up the past, Jinli's condition had once again spiraled downward. Which was why Hulan had gone several times already this summer to Neighborhood Committee Director Zhang to register complaints. But the old woman, whose duty it was to keep tabs on the comings and goings of the residents of this Beijing neighborhood, had joined the troupe herself and for once seemed completely immune to Hulan's imprecations.

"Huanying, huanying," Madame Zhang Junying said automatically, opening the door to Hulan. Then, seeing how her neighbor was dressed, the older woman quickly pulled Hulan inside. "Where are your day clothes? You are trying to scare the neighbors?"

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Table of Contents

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 24 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 24 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2000

    Lisa See should do better than this

    Lisa See's family memoir 'On Gold Mountain' was terrific, which is probably why I'm so angry at 'The Interior' and its predecessor, 'The Flower Net.' The stilted dialogue and clunky, improbable plot rendered 'The Flower Net' unreadable, and while 'The Interior' has many of the same problems, it also has the seeds of what could be a really interesting book. In 'The Interior,' heroine Lin Hulan goes undercover on an assembly line in a factory producing goods for a U.S. company. There, See almost seems relieved to be able to abandon the pretense of writing an international thriller and puts herself into the heads of regular people trying to walk the survival tightrope in a changing China. This is good stuff. See writes with confidence, and very quickly creates characters the reader can care about. Once the book goes back to its international-business-conspiracy plot, it becomes frenetic and indicative. Lisa See obviously has great feeling for China and its people. Why doesn't she drop this thriller thing and write a novel about China, focusing entirely on Chinese characters? That might be worth reading.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2011

    The Interior

    The Interior is a great book that can teach alot of lessons. It teaches about child labor and how it happens in alot of place and also it teaches about making decisions and having to deal with the consequences of what could happen.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 25, 2010

    Not the best...not the worst

    It's not as good as Flower Net but it's ok. A slow read.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 9, 2011

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