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The Red Chamber by Pauline A. Chen
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The Red Chamber

by Pauline A. Chen

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8513141,824 (3.45)3
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Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
Holy anachronisms, Batman. This hugely entertaining, if not particularly well-written reimagining of Cao Xueqin's 18th century classic, is full of clunky phrases like "Pan had killed someone. Could he actually escape scot-free?" (it must be noted that "scot-free" shows up not once but TWICE. Does Knopf not hire editors or what?) and hilariously unsubtle observations like "She feels oppressed by the weight of being the perfect daughter". At one point, the phrase "adieu" is used in a riddle, and while I don't know anything about Chinese-French relations during the Qing Dynasty (school is wasted on the young) I'm pretty sure that "adieu" was probably not in the lexicon of young Chinese aristocratic women of the time. To be fair, this phrase was taken from David Hawkes' translation and it is needed for a rhyme, but you think SOMEONE would have noticed.

That being said, I'm a sucker for all that exotic Oriental shit (crushed jasmines, mother-of-pearl screens, vests embroidered with gold flowers, etc) which I'm not sure is okay to say because while I'm Chinese, I'm so divorced from that culture that it sounds fetishistic but let's leave it at that. I also love palace intrigue, downstairs/upstairs stories (we get a few subplots involving the servants and maids), and abrupt changes in fortune, all of which this book is happy to supply me with. While the Red Chamber is nominally centered around a love triangle, the real focus is on the complicated friendships and relationships between the women at the Rongguo Mansion. My favorite character was Wang Xifeng, who I imagine as the Cersei Lannister of Beijing, slinging back wine and having steamy affairs (not with her brother though) and generally ruining the illusions of more naive girls. Her sisterwife-like relationship with her body servant, Ping'er, is one of the more interesting aspects of the novel.

Red Chamber reminds me a lot of that other recent reworking of an epic, which was also written by an Ivy League classics student-turned-classics-professor. While Red Chamber's sex scenes are way less sappy than the ones in "Song of Achilles", the novels share that same modern desire of examining the psychology of characters who are touchstones in their respective cultures. They also both suffer from a fairly shallow reading of the original text and a lack of a subtle hand (maybe Chen and Miller could have benefited from studying English lit as well just to see how the competent English-language writers do it. JUST SAYIN.)

Final verdict: I'd definitely recommend this book as pure entertainment. It's so easy to read and just as soapy as anything you'd watch on a Shonda Rimes TV show. I couldn't put it down (which I can't say for any book I've read since middle school). Plus, it might pique your interest in the real thing. I've always wanted to read Hawkes' translation but I was always intimidated by the length and the amount of characters. Maybe this introduction will make it a little easier. ( )
  megantron | Jan 2, 2015 |
This isn't particularly written well, nor is the story particularly novel. But the characters are well constructed and complicated, and it somehow became a very enjoyable airplane read which I could not put down. ( )
  lincolnpan | Dec 31, 2014 |
4.5 rating ( )
  asawyer | Dec 31, 2014 |
When Daiyu is orphaned and brought to the Jia's house in the Capital, it was beyond her imagination that she would soon be involved in the dangerous intrigue that happens behind beautiful smiles and welcoming facades. The reader follows the stories of three girls in this time period that leaves women with no choices of their own.

This story is a tragedy, for the most part. And I loved that about this book, that the ending was tragic instead of something happily ever after. It made the sorrows and difficult moments more real, more believable, more heart-striking.

But the thing about this book is just that I don't love any of the characters. I don't hurt when they hurt, I don't love as they love. None of them endeared themselves to me - and this book was all about the characters. But even Daiyu, the supposed main character, did not make me eager to learn more about her or to watch her grow as a person in love or in character. It was like reading a story about strangers you don't particularly care about.

It took such a long time to fall into this world, to understand customs and implicit rules.

But there were so many beautiful moments, so many poignant moments that hurt so deeply or drew such beautiful pictures to mind. I kept turning the pages, I kept on reading.

And for that, two stars. I didn't love it, but I didn't drop it and I didn't hate it.
Recommended to people who love this time period or perhaps have previous knowledge of the original book this one was based off of. ( )
  NineLarks | Sep 15, 2014 |
When Daiyu is orphaned and brought to the Jia's house in the Capital, it was beyond her imagination that she would soon be involved in the dangerous intrigue that happens behind beautiful smiles and welcoming facades. The reader follows the stories of three girls in this time period that leaves women with no choices of their own.

This story is a tragedy, for the most part. And I loved that about this book, that the ending was tragic instead of something happily ever after. It made the sorrows and difficult moments more real, more believable, more heart-striking.

But the thing about this book is just that I don't love any of the characters. I don't hurt when they hurt, I don't love as they love. None of them endeared themselves to me - and this book was all about the characters. But even Daiyu, the supposed main character, did not make me eager to learn more about her or to watch her grow as a person in love or in character. It was like reading a story about strangers you don't particularly care about.

It took such a long time to fall into this world, to understand customs and implicit rules.

But there were so many beautiful moments, so many poignant moments that hurt so deeply or drew such beautiful pictures to mind. I kept turning the pages, I kept on reading.

And for that, two stars. I didn't love it, but I didn't drop it and I didn't hate it.
Recommended to people who love this time period or perhaps have previous knowledge of the original book this one was based off of. ( )
  NineLarks | Sep 15, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307701573, Hardcover)

In this lyrical reimagining of the Chinese classic Dream of the Red Chamber, set against the breathtaking backdrop of eighteenth-century Beijing, the lives of three unforgettable women collide in the inner chambers of the Jia mansion. When orphaned Daiyu leaves her home in the provinces to take shelter with her cousins in the Capital, she is drawn into a world of opulent splendor, presided over by the ruthless, scheming Xifeng and the prim, repressed Baochai. As she learns the secrets behind their glittering façades, she finds herself entangled in a web of intrigue and hidden passions, reaching from the petty gossip of the servants’ quarters all the way to the Imperial Palace. When a political coup overthrows the emperor and plunges the once-mighty family into grinding poverty, each woman must choose between love and duty, friendship and survival.

In this dazzling debut, Pauline A. Chen draws the reader deep into the secret, exquisite world of the women’s quarters of an aristocratic household, where the burnish of wealth and refinement mask a harsher truth: marriageable girls are traded like chattel for the family’s advancement, and to choose to love is to risk everything. 

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:46:30 -0400)

An epic reimagining of the Chinese classic "Dream of the Red Chamber" is set against a backdrop of eighteenth-century Beijing and follows the intersecting lives of three women, including orphaned Daiyu, who becomes tangled in a web of intrigue with ties to the Emperor's Palace.… (more)

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