This book was recommended by my Lonely Planet China guidebook and I found it in an English bookstore in Beijing so I thought I would give it a try. While I would be hesitant to whole-heartedly recommended this book, due to its somewhat graphic content, I am glad to have read it.
This is a book about shame.
The story weaves between the past and the present of the narrator, a 28 year old woman named Coral.
Coral’s past is one filled with the shame of sins committed against her (neglect, abandonment, horrible sexual abuse, and ostracization) and sins committed by her (seducing her middle school teacher, jealousy, hatred, and abortion). She was born in the Village of Stone, a small fishing village ruled by superstition and the sea and known as “Little Dog” a nickname given to her by her despondent Grandfather. Survival occupies the first 15 years of her life.
Her present is Beijing, where she shares a bottom floor apartment with her unemployed boyfriend “Red”. The bottom floor apartment, which receives only a few minutes of sunlight a day, serves as a metaphor for their inability to be upwardly mobile, both economically and emotionally. Even in this exciting and bustling city of 22 million people Coral is unable to find something powerful enough to drown out her shame. Equally unobtainable is someone with which to fight the loneliness that has always haunted her.
While the book ends with a slight glimmer of hope, the overwhelming feel of the book is bleak.
So what were the redeeming qualities?
- Xiaolu is an exceptional writer and her poetry is beautifully transferred into English by Cindy Carter.
- I believe this book is an excellent parable of the spiritual state of the younger generation of China. Migrants are fleeing the countryside and flooding the cities in search of a new life and new opportunity. The old superstitions and repressive traditions of the past are being left behind in favor of the glittering promises of modernity. Yet aching loneliness and shame still haunts those without Christ.
- This book helped to break my heart for the lost of China and the urban lost around the world. The fact that I bought it and began reading it in Beijing made its bleak message all the more vivid. Although she is very different in some ways with Coral, I found myself thinking of and praying for often our tour guide, Jenny, as I read this.
Whether you end up reading this book or not, I hope that its empty message moves you to pray for the millions of Chinese souls who struggle each day, along with the rest of the unbelieving world, under the suffocating burden of guilt, shame, and sin. Pray that they would know the freedom and peace that comes not through modernity, power, wealth or fame…but through knowing and being known by the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.
And if you think of it, pray for Jenny specifically.