The Boat to Redemption

( 1 )

Overview

In the peaceable, river-side village of Milltown, Secretary Ku has fallen into disgrace. It has been officially proven that he is not the son of a revolutionary martyr, but the issue of a river pirate and a prostitute. Mocked by his neighbors, Ku leaves the shore for a new life among the boat people. Refusing to renounce his high status, he—along with his teenage son—keeps his distance from the gossipy lowlifes who surround him. Then one day a feral girl, Huixian, arrives looking for her mother, and the boat ...

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The Boat to Redemption: A Novel

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Overview

In the peaceable, river-side village of Milltown, Secretary Ku has fallen into disgrace. It has been officially proven that he is not the son of a revolutionary martyr, but the issue of a river pirate and a prostitute. Mocked by his neighbors, Ku leaves the shore for a new life among the boat people. Refusing to renounce his high status, he—along with his teenage son—keeps his distance from the gossipy lowlifes who surround him. Then one day a feral girl, Huixian, arrives looking for her mother, and the boat people, and especially Ku's son, take her to their hearts. But Huixian sows conflict wherever she goes, and soon the boy is in the grip of an obsession.

Raw, emotional, and unerringly funny, the Man Asian Prize-winning novel from China's bestselling literary author is a story of a people caught in the stranglehold not only of their own desires and needs, but also of a Party that sees everything and forgives nothing.

Winner of the 2009 Man Asian Literary Prize

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this Man Booker-shortlisted novel, Tong (Raise the Red Lantern) chronicles the misadventures of a lovesick young man left behind by China's new prosperity. Ku Dongliang's father, Ku Wenxuan, is the powerful Secretary of Milltown; his mother, Qiao Limin, is a radio propagandist; and their relation to a beloved revolutionary martyr has earned them much respect. But an official investigation reverses their fortune when it's discovered that there is no relation to the martyr. Wenxuan loses his job, Limin questions his faithfulness, and Dongliang's classmates dub him "Kongpi," or "emptier than empty, and stinkier than an ass." Dongliang then follows Wenxuan into ignominy by living among the vulgar but kind-hearted boat people of the Golden Sparrow River. After Wenxuan literally, and graphically, attempts to excise the lust that lead to his ruin, his features transform, making him resemble a fish. He also becomes increasingly bothered by Dongliang's burgeoning sexuality, which only worsens when the boat people adopt a mysterious orphan girl. Dongliang's obsession with her drives him to disobey his father, and society, and soon everything begins to look "kongpi." Finally, he makes off with a revolutionary monument without considering its true weight. Tong's characterizations are thin (particularly the women), and the logic of his plot questionable, but his unflinching attention to hypocrisy and bitterly absurd sense of humor are in fine form. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Recently shortlisted for the 2011 Man Booker International Prize, distinguished Chinese author Su is perhaps best known in the West for Raise the Red Lantern, made into an Academy Award-nominated film. This new work, winner of the 2009 Asian Man Literary Award, is set in China in the 1960s-70s and narrated by Ku Dongliang as a teenager and young adult. Dongliang ends up living for over a decade on a barge with his father, Ku Wenxuan, who has been publicly shunned for unknowingly posing as the son of a martyr. With Wenxuan clinging to his birthright and innocence, Dongliang is relegated to living with the nickname Kongpi (literally, "empty ass") and must deal with further shame after his father's near-successful attempt at making himself a eunuch. Life offers up even greater turmoil when Dongliang becomes obsessed with an abandoned girl named Huixian. VERDICT Those familiar with contemporary Chinese literature will not be surprised when reading this angst-filled and sometimes shocking story. Though slightly predictable at the end, this character-driven work, well translated by Goldblatt, is undeniably a story to ponder.—Shirley N. Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA
Library Journal
The son of a disgraced party official comes of age among a community of barge dwellers in this novel set during the Cultural Revolution. (LJ 8/11)
Kirkus Reviews

In a loosely paced, prize-winning political satire, possible descendants of a Chinese revolutionary martyr are linked to an orphan girl with a bourgeois attitude.

Su Tong (My Life as Emperor, 2005, etc.) won the Asian Man Literary Prize for this salty tragicomedy tracing an absurdly burdened life in the era of the Cultural Revolution. Its central character is Dongliang, whose father believes himself the son of revolutionary heroine Deng Shaoxiang, a fact proved by the fish-shaped birthmark on his backside. But when an investigative team declares the claim invalid, 15-year-old Dongliang's world falls apart. His father's "lifestyle problems" (multiple sexual liaisons) also come to light, and divorce follows. Forced to choose between his parents, Dongliang accompanies his father into a life of shame on a fishing barge where Ku tries to castrate himself. The curious tone of the story lends a farcical, occasionally even dreamy edge to a tale layered with subtle references to China's recent past as well as burdensome sexuality and sorrow. Dongliang is often adrift, a misfit who only discovers some purpose when an orphan child, Huixian, is found on the barge. But Dongliang's feelings are not reciprocated, and Huixian grows up first to a life of success and then experiences her own fall from grace.

This meandering, oddly shaped novel is likely to be of greater impact to readers familiar with its context.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590206720
  • Publisher: Overlook Press, The
  • Publication date: 10/27/2011
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 9.24 (w) x 6.34 (h) x 1.24 (d)

Meet the Author

Born in 1963 in Suzhou and now living in Beijing with his family, Su Tong is China's most celebrated author, shooting to international fame when Zhang Yimou's Academy Award-nominated film of his novella Raise the Red Lantern.

Translator Howard Goldblatt is research professor at the University of Notre Dame. He has been awarded the Translation of the Year Prize from the American Literary Translators Association and the Man Asian Literary Prize.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2012

    This is an amazing novel, not so much for its plot (which is qui

    This is an amazing novel, not so much for its plot (which is quite interesting), but for the various characters/caricatures that Su Tong develops in this narrative. This a a novel that slices into the core of the spirit of the so called Cultural Revolution.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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