The 14 stories and fragment of an autobiographical novel collected here are set in urban China in the 1930s and run the gamut from satire to tragedy. Writing during Mao's reign, Lao She (a pen name; his real name was Shu Qingchun) was at first championed by the regime and achieved international recognition with his best-known novel, Camel Xiangzi (or Rickshaw, as it was titled in its first English translation). In the 1960s, however, he fell out of favor, and he died at the hands of the Red Guards in 1966. His stories are not explicitly political, but rather focus on human relationships and particularly on clashes between generations. The writer mocks self-righteousness and self-absorption in "A Man Who Doesn't Lie," in which upstanding Mr. Zhou is offended at an invitation to join the Liar's Society, but makes excuses to his boss to get a day off. In "The Grand Opening," the narrator boasts about his hospital, which treats VD with expensive injections of tea. But the tales are not all humorous. The young opera lover in "Rabbit" is destroyed by ambition and another man's greed, and in "Attachment," a collector of calligraphy loses his sense of proportion as he acquires paintings. With his humor and light touch, even Lao She's meditations on the baseness of humanity are sympathetic and appealing. Lyell's translations occasionally employ Western idioms to jarring effect, but the writer's voice shines through in this funny, deft collection from an important 20th-century Chinese literary figure. Notes at the end of each story explain pronunciation and cultural details, and the translator's postscript includes detailed biographical information. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Blades Of Grass ( paper; Oct. 1; 320 pp.; 0-8248-1506-8; paper 0-8248-1803-2) An attractive collection of 15 nicely varied stories, set mostly in China in the 1930s, by the pseudonymous master (1899–1966) who was murdered by Mao's Red Guards, then "rehabilitated" in 1978. Several of Lao She's richly characterized, fully plotted stories are explicitly political: the bitter "Neighbors" and the ironical "Black Li and White Li" (about two brothers whose respective liberal and conservative beliefs keep them forever estranged) are exemplary. But he's at his best in tales that teeter on the edge of surrealism and fantasy, such as "Rabbit" (a Gogolian fable of obsession, sexual irregularity, and psychological disintegration), the wry "Also a Triangle" (about two financially strapped soldiers who share a wife), and especially the subtle, disturbing "An Old Man's Romance." Lao She's expert translators have also provided a detailed and informative Postscript that convincingly makes the case for including him among China's greatest modern writers.