Monday, June 25, 2012

The Red Chamber-Pauline A. Chen

The Red Chamber

Pauline A. Chen

Knopf, Jul 10 2012, $26.95

ISBN: 9780307701572

When Jia Min dies in poverty, her wealthy brother Jia Zheng the Under-Secretary of the Ministry arranges for his orphaned niece Daiyu to come to Beijing to live. She moves into the young unmarried women wing of the extended family’s humongous Rongguo mansion. Almost upon arrival Daiyu realizes her maternal grandma Lady Jia loathes her as the offspring of an unacceptable father and knows with simple looks how removed she has been from her affluent relatives as her wardrobe is not good enough for the lowest servant.

Xue Baochai is plain looking but chosen to wed Jia Baoyu. However, he prefers his cousin the pretty newcomer over his fiancĂ©e. Jia Lian’s wife Wang Xifeng has been unable to provide the heir. He and his mom agree he needs a concubine; and selects Xifeng's loyal servant P'inger. When the emperor is poisoned the new ruler incarcerates those who supported the disposed leader to include the Jia males. Now the women have no men to protect them so they must learn to fend for themselves.

Though the extended duo family trees are needed to keep the names straight, this rewriting of the classic eighteenth century Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xuequin is an entertaining Chinese historical. The storyline enables readers to obtain a fascinating glimpse into the lives of aristocratic females who when they are child bearing age are a marital political and social commodity. The storyline starts slow as Pauline A. Chen introduces her ensemble cast by rotating the focus. Once done the plot accelerates into a powerful Chinese family drama as fans will want to know how the various triangles will play out especially after the male angles are removed.

Harriet Klausner

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