Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, September 10, 2009

"The Univited" by Geling Yan Chinese Challenge

The Uninvited by Geling Yan (2006, 276 pages) is my first book for The Chinese Challenge hosted by Jeannie of Bibliofile.   It was published in the USA as Banqueting Bug.

The Uninvited
is a fun, fast paced, vivid account of the life of a Chinese peasant, living in contemporary Beijing, who changes his life when he begins to impersonate a free lance journalist one lucky day. 

Dan, the central character, finds out that by pretending to be a freelance journalist he can eat free at elaborate promotional banquets while at the same time being paid for his time in the hope that this will induce him to write an article favorable to the sponsor of the banquet.   Imagine
his shock when he discovers the fee is more than he could make in a month at his current hard labor job.   Plus the food is at a level and quantity he has never before experienced in his life.
We enter a food obsessed world.   (Of the 276 pages of the novel, at least 100 mention food.)

"minced pigeon breasts with mashed tofu  molded into tiny a big oblong plate lay 20 huge sea snails..he won't let her life pass without knowing what shark fins or sea cucumbers or crab claw tips taste like".

Modern Beijing seems a completely corrupt place.   It is taken for granted that bank loans require a gift of a TV set to the loan officer, that female college students will serve as plates in what is called a "Nude Banquet" to pay their tuition, and that the developer of a big condominium project will seek a way to cheat his workers out of their pay.    Under the morals of the regime, you are not allowed to take a cash payment of any kind but the gift of a car to a government official is normal.  

Dan grew up on boiled tree bark and grubs and soon gets used to his new way of life.   He begins to see going to banquets as his job.   He finds out that there are banquets all over town.   He even has some phony business cards printed up that identify him as a free lance journalist.
Dan meets some interesting people, has some adventures and does somethings that a man with a great wife like Little Plum should not do.   I do not want to give away a lot of the plot.

The book does not suggest that Beijing is an especially corrupt city.   it is a city in transition with millions of people once tied to old ways and the land now made adrift in a culture that provides no replacement values.   This occurs  when traditional values are destroyed or turned into a mockery of themselves.   I did note that all anyone seems to read in this book are newspapers.
No one has any real Reading Life.  

I liked The Uninvited a lot.  I learned some interesting things.   I toured a condominium
under construction, I learned a lot about Chinese food.   I found out why there are so many foot
massage places in Beijing.    I found out what preparations a woman must go through for her job as a human plate.  I saw a strong marriage, though not a perfect one.   I saw that not everyone is
in fact corrupted.     It is an easy to read, well plotted and deeper than it first appears.   I would happily read other books by Geling Yan.

Geling Yan has an interesting life history.   She was born in Shanghai.   She has been, among other things, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Chinese Army, serving in Tibet and Vietnam.   Several of her books have been made into movies, in China.   

Mel u

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


Table Talk said...

Mel, you might like to try Ha Jin's novel 'Waiting'. It's a really interesting read both in terms of the content but also in respect of the way in which it's structured.

Book Bird Dog said...

Excellent review. You've sold me on this book.

Mark David said...

Sumptuous story :) Now you make me want to read the book now... but that time will come ;) Thanks Mel!

Suko said...

Mel, this book sounds funny, but with a more serious side, too. I may need to add this book to my TBR stack. Thanks for your review!

Mel u said...

Table Talk-thanks for the recommendation-I will look for it

Book Bird Dog-so glad you also joined the China Challenge and looking forward to your posts

Mark David-have you joined the China Challenge yet-?

Suko-this is a very entertaining book-as a parent it shows what happens when people are left in a world where the old values are destroyed without being replaced-

Mark David said...

Yes, I've already joined Mel, and I also listed this book.

About the girls' preparations for being a "human plate", I've seen a short feature on this on TV some time ago, though it was with a Japanese restaurant in the US, and not a Chinese one. But I figure it would pretty much be the same. I guess it only makes sense that it's quite a meticulous preparation since they'd want to make sure the food is kept clean and the practice hygienic.