More reviews are coming in of author Zhang Lijia´s Lotus: A Novel, about prostitution in China, this time from the NPR. The reviewer is rightfully impressed. “We can count ourselves lucky to get this glimpse into the fascinating world of Lotus.”
The author has a light touch, even when delineating the underbelly of contemporary Chinese culture. She conducted research in the red light districts of Shenzhen, Dongguan, Beihai, Tianjin and Beijing, so there is a documentary verity to the telling, giving starch to fiction that might otherwise be flabby. Zhang also brings a personal stake to the book, dedicating it to her grandmother, who was sold to a brothel as a euphemistically-termed “flower girl,” or courtesan.
Some first novels, especially those birthed in creative writing classes (Zhang, a former rocket factory worker in China, studied at the University of Iowa), go heavy on self-consciously poetic language. The author tries too hard and the reader suffers. The images Zhang gives us, in contrast, are uncomplicated, concise and touching. Young Lotus’s “pencil was homemade, simply the broken end of a pencil’s lead discarded by her classmates, stabbed into a piece of soft wood.” Concerning Bing’s emotions, Zhang writes, “He had been like an ant on a hot pan ever since the girls’ visit.”
Book groups be advised: Readers will learn quite specific tricks of the trade. Lotus is undeniably earthy but thankfully spare, letting its characters, and its proverbs, do the talking. When Bing wants to get serious with Lotus, we hear about the development a proverbial way: “What luck, this offer. A pancake fallen from the sky, as her grandma would say.” We can count ourselves lucky to get this glimpse into the fascinating world of Lotus.
Are you looking for more experts on cultural change in China? Do check out this list.