Monday, October 19, 2009

Book News

Just wanted to let everyone know that my book, Tales From a Goth Librarian, was named as a Finalist in the 2009 USA Book News Award for Fiction: Short Story!

I am very proud of this accolade!

Cheers!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Book Review - Farewell My Concubine by Lillian Lee

Amid luscious backdrops, colourful costumes, and historic tales of long ago, Chinese opera gives the audience a view into the past. Emperors who rose to power only to quickly fall are given an audience that will hear their story with unabashed rapture. Concubines and women will, no doubt, receive the same respect, for they too had a story to tell that was entwined in the history of China. For those of us that cannot view such performances, there is the novel Farewell to my Concubine by Lillian Lee. In this novel, we enter the world of Chinese opera, as seen from the viewpoint of two actors, Xiao Douzi and Xiao Shitou, who later take the names Cheng Dieyi and Duan Xiaolou. As children, Shitou played the role of protector and king in operas while Douzi played the king’s graceful concubine. Their operatic roles blurred into their daily lives as Douzi began to care more and more for his friend and “king” while Shitou continued to care for his friend and fellow opera student in a brotherly manner. As they progressed into adulthood, Dieyi maintained his feminine charm and grace while in love with his friend as Xiaolou is oblivious to his friend’s love and instead takes a woman from a local brothel as his wife.

One of the themes expressed well in Farewell My Concubine is sacrifice. Douzi’s mother, a prostitute, sacrificed her son’s extra digit on his hand so as to give him a better life in opera than she could ever hope to give him. We see Douzi/Dieyi sacrifice his soul in order to play the perfect Dan (female) roles, both on the stage and off, in order to appease those who offered him no other choice. We also see the sacrifices made by the country itself in order to throw off the shackles of the imperial way of life to face a new one, one shadowed with much betrayal, bloodshed, and finally, a possible redemption with lessons learned from the past and the present.

Lee gives a sneak peek into a world that is foreign to most; the words jump off the page as the readers enjoy not only reading about two opera actors but the history of China after the rule of Aisin Gioro PuYi to modern time with a heavy dose of life during Mao’s reign. Lee’s words show us China falling under a heavy spell under the rule of Mao and the consequences because of it. Although sentence structure at times was simplistic and slightly elementary, possibly due to the translation of the book, the words still held together to create a vivid picture of a life decorated with plumage, sexuality, lies, and death. One feels sorry for Douzi/Dieyi as he succumbs over and over to advances made by other men, men of power and influence that could either make or break him. One sees the simple, powerful, and at times hopeless life led by Shitou/Xiaolou who goes from boy to man thinking himself to be more than he appears to be with later realizing that he is not. There is also Juxian, Xiaolou’s wife, portrayed as the catalyst between the boyhood friends; she knows she is the stronger one between herself and Dieyi; she is ‘entitled’ to have him. The novel blends the love triangle and history of China well, leaving no room for any dead or melodramatic moments. All the readers have is an excellent and tragic story. Farewell my Concubine is more than just a book about two tragic opera singers; it is a book about tragic China.