Friday, November 7, 2014

G449 Book Review of Vicissitudes of Life by Wang Xiaoying

Name of Book: Vicissitudes of Life

Author: Wang Xiaoying

ISBN: 978-1-60220-221-4

Publisher: Tuttle

Type of book: China, Shanghai, 1980s, economy, old China vs modern China vs new China, decisions, keeping face, international student

Year it was published: 2010


Vicissitudes of Life tells the story of Xiaoyi, a post-graduate studying in America during the early years of China's opening up. Xiaoyi has opportunities in AMerica, but pining for his wife and determined to contribute to the building of the "new China" he decides to return home. Before he leaves a former lover reads his fortune using a traditional book of divination. She warns him that a dire fate awaits him in China. Xiaoyi ignores the warning and returns home.

Back in Shanghai, he is reunited with his wife Fanfan, a singer in a local chorus, and is offered a job at his former university. However, it quickly becomes apparent that not everyone is happy about Xiaoyi's appointment, particularly the zealous Party Secretarty You Dexiang. Xiaoyi soon finds himself in a Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare. As his career and marriage gradually break down, Xiaoyi's faith in the new age of opportunity he came back for is severely tested.


I have to admit that I had a lot of fun trying to figure out the importance of characters and what they represented: while the story centers on Yu Xiaoyi, it also talks about three important relationships to him, that of him and his wife Fanfan, his best friend Mo Ke and Mi Na, whom he used to know but lost touch with. I feel that Fanfan represents the old China, Mo Ke represents the modern China and Mi Na represents the future China, and Yu Xiaoyi has to decide which path he must travel on. Character-wise, Fanfan is a talented folklore singer who has high ambitions on making it, Mo Ke is an economics teacher that secretly likes Yu Xiaoyi while Mi Na is an ambitious young lady who wants to expand her business world-wide.


People are more the same than different


The story is in third person narrative mainly from Yu Xiaoyi's point of view although we also get to see other characters' points of views, often without a warning. Some of the things that occurred in the story are shocking, even for me, but they are thought provoking and in a right way a discussion will occur of how we are more the same than different. What is important in the story are the small details and how these small details ultimately create a big picture.

Author Information:
(From Tuttlepublishing page)

Wang Xiaoying worked as a fiction editor at Meng Ya, a literary magazine. Transferring to the Shanghai Writers Association as a professional writer in 1985, she is now a member of the China Writers Association and a council member of the Shanghai Writers Association. Her main works include novels, novellas and collected works of prose, including Who Do You Defend, I'll Defend You, We Were in Love, and Vicissitudes of Life, which was awarded the National Outstanding Novella Prize in 1986 and is available in English. The novel Superb Artistry in Painting won her the Shanghai Culture and Arts Award in 1989, the National Outstanding Novel and Novella Award in 1998, and the People's Literature Magazine Award in 2001.


I have to admit that this is one of the complex books that I've read, yet I really enjoyed seeing the symbolism and trying to make sense of what the author was trying to say, which I think has to do with China's place in the world as it relates to Yu Xioayi and the relationships that surround him. Ultimately, I feel, the question is this: what is the role of China and what path should it take? If it takes one path then it loses culture so to speak, and if it takes another path, it loses the much needed help. Also, despite the rules and desires, and even if it comes to be a democracy, it seems as little to no change will occur. A very thought provoking and highly recommended book if you're a fan of Asia or Chinese culture.

I would like to thank Tuttle Publishing for the chance to read and review this wonderful book

4 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)

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