Publicly banned in China for its X-rated materials, this novel is semi-autobiographical story of Coco, a café waitress, who is a young, free-spirited and aspiring writer. She has a Chinese lover, Tian Tian, for whom she loves with all her heart and soul. Tian Tian however is reclusive, impotent and a drug addict. Despite parental objections, Coco moves in with him, leaves her job and writes her first novel. She met Mark, a married German. They begin an affair. Mingling with the underworld of drug addicts, pimps and gays and lesbians, distraught by Tian Tian’s drug habits, torn between her two lovers, and unable to distinguish between the need for spiritual love and sex, you can imagine how mess-up this young lady’s life is.
She also had dinner with Mark’s wife and soon after Mark announced that he is going back to Germany for good, and demand to spend all his waking hours before his final farewell with his Shanghai lover. Tian Tian’s mother flew in from Spain after many years of not seeing her son. She is back to open up a Spanish restaurant in Shanghai. For while mother was reconciled with her son whom she left behind. While her lover Tian Tian seek recluse in the South and eventually died of drug overdose.
The sequel however is more subdued and mellow. Here we see Coco being a little bit more sensible, rejecting advances from interested parties…
This time Coco left her homein Shanghai to live in New York. She met Muju, half-Italian, half-apanese- the yang to Coco’s yin, appears to be his true love. Then another men, Nick, shows up in her life again (oh Bother!). Troubled by the recent change of attitude by Muju, she flies back toShanghai andstayed in a tiny temple-studded island of Putuo, and for a time she finds peace and confidence restored. But a deeper dilemma awaits when the twomen makes their reappearance in Shanghai, and Coco discovered that she is pregnant. We were never told who is the father. The ending seems to be a premonition for another sequel.
In this book, I found the morally distorted Coco embracing the teachings of Buddhism and the monk rather bizarre.
Wei Hui is the daughter of an army officer and spent three years of her childhood living in an army-occupied temple from which monks had been expelled during the chaos of the Cultural Revolution. She studies literature at the prestigious Fudan University in Shanghai. First championed by the state media as a rising star of her generation, Wei Hui is now dubbed ‘decadent, debauched and a slave of foreign culture.’ Shanghai Baby was banned by the authorities in April 2000 and 40,000 copies were publicly burned, serving only to fan the flames of the author’s cult status.
The book is regarded as a distinct voice that describes China on the brink of its own social and sexual revolution. Wei Hui calls the novel a semi-autobiographical account of her spiritual and sexual awakening. ” I grew up in a very strict family. My first year of college was spent in military training. What happened after that was natural. I rebelled. I went wild. That’s what I wrote about. I was looking for a voice of my generation. The gap that divides those of us born in the 1970s and the older generation has never been so wide.” – Wei Hui, Reuters
Well, at least she is employed by Reuters. Not sure if it is due to her qualification or her raunchy novels. The point I wanted to make is that I am not writing a book review here. I read chit list sometimes for fun, but I wasn’t expected to read “something” like this. I couldn’t quite pin the novels down, some reads like articles from Playboy, there should be a warning at the front cover, even in places like the public library. Some part of the books spoke of wisdom of men-women relationship that I appreciated. At times I felt sorry for the progtagonists. Leading a misguided lives, muddling through life fraught with extreme sorts of moral decadence. I think the book gets hyped up for all the wrong reasons. It even had a movie made based on the first book,acted by Bai Ling (see Shanghai Baby). It seems of all the beautiful literary work that one could possibly find in Chinese literature, the West had chosen the one with decadence view of the Far Eastern to publicise and market, fortifying the perception of Asian women being easy, with the sole purpose to shock. It is a book some will classify as trashy novel and for some it actually holds some value. It doesn’t help either that the translation from Chinese would have diluted the romanticism or true intent of the writer, of which only a Chinese reader would appreciate.
The translator for her books is Brian Humes: refer http://paper-republic.org/brucehumes/2009/3/