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Beginning amid the decadent glamour of China in the 1930s and ending in the 1980s in Hong Kong, this brilliant novel, which formed the basis for the award-winning movie, is the passionate story of an opera student who falls in love with his best friend, and the beautiful woman who comes between them.


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Beginning amid the decadent glamour of China in the 1930s and ending in the 1980s in Hong Kong, this brilliant novel, which formed the basis for the award-winning movie, is the passionate story of an opera student who falls in love with his best friend, and the beautiful woman who comes between them.

30 review for Farewell My Concubine

  1. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    The movie adaptation of Lilian Lee’s Farewell My Concubine is widely renowned and celebrated, but the novel perhaps not as much, and that’s a shame. As with all original sources, this is more flushed out, subtler, and more enjoyable in many ways than the movie. While I loved the movie, especially the dynamic between Gong Li’s Juxian and Leslie Cheung’s Dieyi, the movie took certain liberties that I didn’t care for, but didn’t know initially because I watched the movie prior to reading this lovel The movie adaptation of Lilian Lee’s Farewell My Concubine is widely renowned and celebrated, but the novel perhaps not as much, and that’s a shame. As with all original sources, this is more flushed out, subtler, and more enjoyable in many ways than the movie. While I loved the movie, especially the dynamic between Gong Li’s Juxian and Leslie Cheung’s Dieyi, the movie took certain liberties that I didn’t care for, but didn’t know initially because I watched the movie prior to reading this lovely novel. In particular, there are dramatic differences in some key events as well as in how Juxian is portrayed on the whole (even as Lee worked on the screenplay). Those concerns aside, the novel is an easy read, yet hardly a superficial one, full of some smart and insightful wisdom from the author along with an evocative glimpse into China’s history from the days of the republic through the heartbreaking years of the Cultural Revolution and Mao’s regime, and even touching upon the waning years of Britain’s Hong Kong. We are treated to two biographies; the main characters Dieyi and Xiaolou, starting with their childhood in a severe training school for opera performers. Lee engages the reader in caring for these two and their relationship’s growth, and we feel the emotional tug of war between the pair as it is exacerbated upon the arrival of Juxian. This is a novel of love set amidst the brutal political and social transformation of China in the 20th century, and it’s a daring and prescient novel in terms of issues we struggle with even today, nearly a quarter century after this was first published. One of my favorite quotes appears near the end when Lee writes, “Chairman Mao once said, ‘Nowhere in the world is there love without reason. Nor is there hatred without a cause.’ But he had been wrong. Love was by its very nature unreasoning, while hatred had a thousand causes. The great revolutionary didn’t understand this at all.” It’s a brilliant summation of love woven into the heart of the problem with Mao’s vision of leadership. If you’ve seen the movie, I recommend the book highly. If not, read the novel before viewing the epic motion picture. Either way, it’s a great read.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Erastes

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. A sweeping saga, Farewell my Concubine runs the gamut of China’s modern history, from 1924 to the 1980′s, and takes the revered Peking Opera as its centre stage. Xiao Douzi and Xiao Shitou become friends under the harsh training regime of the opera (a mix of martial arts, deprivation and singing) and continue friends through the good and the very bad times of over 50 years of the country’s turbulent history I’m going to say right out that if you have seen the film and are thinking about reading t A sweeping saga, Farewell my Concubine runs the gamut of China’s modern history, from 1924 to the 1980′s, and takes the revered Peking Opera as its centre stage. Xiao Douzi and Xiao Shitou become friends under the harsh training regime of the opera (a mix of martial arts, deprivation and singing) and continue friends through the good and the very bad times of over 50 years of the country’s turbulent history I’m going to say right out that if you have seen the film and are thinking about reading the book, and you expect the same optimistic conclusions to the character’s stories and actions within the film, you are likely to be either disappointed or surprised by the changes made – or both. Although the book does not end tragically, the film has a softer ending and also within the book the plotline regarding the abandoned child is not how it shown on the film. So be warned. Ok – that’s that out of the way and I can concentrate on the book. Like many books about China, this is a fascinating read, because the cultures and mores of that culture are so very alien to most of a western audience. Lee lets us see Peking from the ground up; the surface “glamour” of actors and protitutes,looking affluent but look closer to see the ragged cloth shoes and the unhealthy pallor. Lee doesn’t flinch from the poverty and the squalour, and later on, the violence and degradation that the characters are forced to endure. A young woman is desperate for her son to live, and to have a trade, carries her son to the Opera and asks them to take him on. We learn that Xiao Douzi (literally: Little Bean) has six fingers on one hand and in order for him to join the Opera–despite his excellent voice–he has to sacrifice it.There’s a theme of sacrifice that runs through the book, but you have to squint to see it. Douzi’s mother was–for me–one of the unresolved plot lines, as this mother is never seen again, and despite Douzi missing her terribly, he does nothing to try and seek her out. It’s perfectly reasonable that she would disappear, but for him to do nothing about it, for he surely would have remember where he had lived, seems a little off, considering his character as it is painted for us. We are introduced to the training regimen of the Opera, and from what I have read it’s not unusual, however harsh. I remember an interview with Jackie Lee who tells of his martial arts school and the terrible rigours he went through, so this is not much different, although absolutely shocking to our eyes, that young boys could be starved, beaten and humiliated in such a way. The training master is rather a cliche, I found, redolent of a sargeant major in a British sit-com or film, although he shows he does care about his charges, and whether they care for him or not, the respect they show him in later life (China, of course having a tradition of high respect for the older generation) is also highlighted. Douzi is a natural “dan” due to his high clear voice and delicate features. A dan is a singer who specialises in female characters on stage—and in a similar fashion to the way that man-playing-female actors were trained in Shakespearian Britain – (see Stage Beauty for reference) – a dan is encouraged to consider himself female much of the time, and Douzi has to remind himself that he’s not. The two friends stay together when they “graduate” from the ten years of their apprenticeship and they go out into the city singing their repetoire and getting better known. They are best known for the opera “Farewell my Concubine” in which Douzi (now renamed Deiyi as an adult) and Shito (renamed Xiaolou) play the concubine Yu Ji and her lover General Xiang Yu. Like many operas in the east and west, it has a tragic ending. In the film it appears that Douzi’s sexual identity is a much bigger deal than the book, for here I found it incredibly muted, and other than a fierce loyalty, one touching scene in make-up when Shito was injured, I never really got the sense that Douzi loved Shito in some enormous way. It was very brotherly, quite hands off, and even his intense hatred and jealousy of Juxian–the prostitute that Shito marries–comes over as more of a Yoko Ono deal, and not ‘he would have loved me if it wasn’t for you.’ Douzi, doesn’t ever act on that love, so we never get a chance to find out. The scenes where the Red Guards, consisting mainly of teenagers, terrorise everyone who don’t adhere to the new ideals, were the most moving for me; the inhumanity of man against man, and the demonstration of just how blood-thirsty and cold young people. Harnessed for a task of cleansing the populace this section really shook me–particularly aligned against how very polite Chinese society was. The way that–even after the revolution of 1911–the country clung to its traditions, nearly had them entirely swept away in an Orwellian frenzy-only to start regaining a sense of their past was terrifying and made for a wonderful section to read. There is a scene towards the end which is could almost be a scene from Orwell’s 1984, which is not terribly surprising, given the regime the three characters find themselves in, and it’s every bit as heartbreaking, although the real heartbreak comes at the end of the book. However, I don’t know whether it was the translation, or just the book itself, but it didn’t really move me in the same way that other gay love stories have. I note that the translator was an academic but she wasn’t an author–perhaps it needed an author’s hand, because there were many grammatical issues, and there was some very American slang at times at times that was a tad jarring for 1920 and onwards. It’s when I read things like this that wish that I could read it in the original, but fat chance of that! In fact I think that also, the book fails where the film shines, because it never really gives us a taste of the gorgeousness that the film is able to portray, the life of Deiyi and Xiaolou after they left the training regime and became actors, and started climbing the greasy pole to success is rather rushed, and I for one would have liked a bit more of this section. It’s a fascinating read, however, if only for the portrait of a culture lost, and subsequent descriptions of the Mao regime as it attempted to eradicate anything that smacked of the “old traditions” and anyone with any interest in China will enjoy it for that reason, but the promise of the book in the first chapter that it’s a story of men in love smacked just a little of a ploy to pull in people who want a gay romance, and it never delivers on that score. Not a masterpiece, but well worth a read.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Vanessa Wu

    This is a poignant, short novella that lasts just over 3 hours in the unabridged version I listened to. The bare bones of the story form a very potent plot but the narrative is somewhat dry. Since it spans over 50 years and the lives of the main characters are set against the turbulent political changes in China during those years, from the Japanese invasion, through the rise of Mao Zedong to the end of British colonial rule in Hong Kong, it is hard for the author to squeeze in the telling person This is a poignant, short novella that lasts just over 3 hours in the unabridged version I listened to. The bare bones of the story form a very potent plot but the narrative is somewhat dry. Since it spans over 50 years and the lives of the main characters are set against the turbulent political changes in China during those years, from the Japanese invasion, through the rise of Mao Zedong to the end of British colonial rule in Hong Kong, it is hard for the author to squeeze in the telling personal details that touch your heart. Consequently, I was not drawn into the drama of the characters' lives; their emotions were at one remove. You only have to glance at the stills from the movie to see how much more powerful it is. It has more colour, more life, more emotion. The actors' faces make you want to cry. The narrator of the audio book is a famous Hollywood actress, Nancy Kwan, but her pronunciation of the Chinese names was so mangled and so inconsistent that I sometimes wasn't sure who she was talking about. Never mind. The real Chinese diaspora has only just started. Give it a few more years and everybody in the world will be speaking fluent Mandarin, even our lovely friends from Hong Kong.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Astrid Reza

    i have to say, when seeing the movie first then reading the book, it always fell beyond expectation. thought having it the other way around, mostly it pissed me off because i always felt that the movie is lack of details than with the book. so, i really enjoy reading the book after. i tried to remember the detail of the film, but it shortly failed me with the sad, short tone of the entire novel. i felt sad finishing the book. tragic is more fitting i believe. it's like seeing another version of i have to say, when seeing the movie first then reading the book, it always fell beyond expectation. thought having it the other way around, mostly it pissed me off because i always felt that the movie is lack of details than with the book. so, i really enjoy reading the book after. i tried to remember the detail of the film, but it shortly failed me with the sad, short tone of the entire novel. i felt sad finishing the book. tragic is more fitting i believe. it's like seeing another version of "happy together" of wong kar wai in another era and in another setting. it's even more saddening, like the one of the saddest story written ever before. the sadness suddenly wraps me up all of the sudden , thought it keep me alive. it keep me surviving the era of changes in china. it's like surviving a century, the 20th century. i felt like an old relic in the end of the final sentence. i had to applause lilian lee for this one.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay

    Having taken lots of courses on 'gender' in my Latin American lit classes, this was a really interesting take on the roles of all-male theater. Lots of neat symbolism and a nice blend of eastern and western writing aesthetics (although other translations might be different). I also like any book that can teach me a little history through the story rather than vice versa. I'll probably check out the movie and maybe some of the author's other books. Seems like a good way to learn more about China Having taken lots of courses on 'gender' in my Latin American lit classes, this was a really interesting take on the roles of all-male theater. Lots of neat symbolism and a nice blend of eastern and western writing aesthetics (although other translations might be different). I also like any book that can teach me a little history through the story rather than vice versa. I'll probably check out the movie and maybe some of the author's other books. Seems like a good way to learn more about China without reading textbook-style tomes. Part of how much I like this book is probably hinged on the fact that it took me out of my normal comfort zone.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Allyria

    As with many translated novels, some of the subliminal beauty of descriptions gets lost when translators may tend to focus on literal meanings rather than implied impressions. It was a quick read with most of my joy found in the writer's passion towards the same point as the book's main protagonist, Dieyi. This story shines at the start where an animated childhood and the love of opera are colorfully painted. I would love to have experienced China during this time of unrestrained artistic freedo As with many translated novels, some of the subliminal beauty of descriptions gets lost when translators may tend to focus on literal meanings rather than implied impressions. It was a quick read with most of my joy found in the writer's passion towards the same point as the book's main protagonist, Dieyi. This story shines at the start where an animated childhood and the love of opera are colorfully painted. I would love to have experienced China during this time of unrestrained artistic freedom and beauty. As far as a historical memoir, one should pick up Wild Swans for a more thorough and detailed account of China's Cultural Revolution.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Brennan

    This book is a whole ass mess but I love it, it has a lot of inconsistencies and the translation is just ok but I still read an emotional story that sort of feels like it’s an opera itself the ~drama~ of it all....

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ana Silva Rosa

    (view spoiler)[The story follows Xiao Douzi, sold by his prostitute mother to the director of a perfomance training school, and Xiao Shitou, an orphan who soon befriends him. As they grow they keep performing together which strengthens their bond. Their abilities are eventually recognized thanks to the opera Farewell My Concubine, where Shitou is a defeated general and Douzi his concubine. Meanwhile, the japanese invade and civil wars break out. China is going through a political turmoil, but Sh (view spoiler)[The story follows Xiao Douzi, sold by his prostitute mother to the director of a perfomance training school, and Xiao Shitou, an orphan who soon befriends him. As they grow they keep performing together which strengthens their bond. Their abilities are eventually recognized thanks to the opera Farewell My Concubine, where Shitou is a defeated general and Douzi his concubine. Meanwhile, the japanese invade and civil wars break out. China is going through a political turmoil, but Shitou marries a former prostitute, Juxian. Douzi is incredibly upset by this, because he loves Shitou. During the Cultural Revolution, both friends are accused of promoting decadent art and are forced to undergo brutal interrogations (where they end up betraying each other), reeducation and exile. This ultimately cause Juxian's suicide. Years later, they meet up in Hong Kong but the old affection couldn't survive and they sing together one last time. (hide spoiler)] This is historically interesting, touching and very well written.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Hauntie

    It's not often a book falls short of fulfilling the promise of a movie. Where the film "Farewell My Concubine" was lush, rich, nuanced, brightly colored, emotional, layered, and beautiful, the book was flat, affectless, emotionally distant, uninspiring. It could be that the richness of the story was lost in the translation from the Chinese, or that the subtleties of an oppressed Chinese life in the 40s, 50s and 60s are just too subtle for me to grasp. But it felt like not enough time was given t It's not often a book falls short of fulfilling the promise of a movie. Where the film "Farewell My Concubine" was lush, rich, nuanced, brightly colored, emotional, layered, and beautiful, the book was flat, affectless, emotionally distant, uninspiring. It could be that the richness of the story was lost in the translation from the Chinese, or that the subtleties of an oppressed Chinese life in the 40s, 50s and 60s are just too subtle for me to grasp. But it felt like not enough time was given to either the relationships or the politics and history, so that both seemed to come up short. Yes, I now have a better understanding of life under Mao, of Chinese high society and poverty of the mid 20th century, but truthfully what I really wanted from this book was an in-depth understanding of the relationship between the two leads. I guess I'll be turning back to the film again -- which isn't really a problem as it is a gorgeous and entertaining piece of art.

  10. 4 out of 5

    El Hunter

    I had to read this book for school, so I wasn’t expecting much. However, I quite enjoyed the process of over analysing the plot and the characters. The story itself to me seemed like a mix of excitement and this strange feeling of uncertainty. It is definitely unlike anything I have ever read before. It’s a very powerful story, but it didn’t make me want to own a copy of this book and to ever re read it. Would I still recommend it? Yes, as I said it’s a powerful story.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sammy Pan

    A book less about the beijing opera but more about how the history of china affects the daily lives of millions of Chinese people, and their culture. I loved the story. Being a Chinese, this book reminded me of how much has been lost, and that is truly grievous.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Helen Lind

    I read this after seeing the movie. It was OK, kind of hard to read at times. I did learn a bit about the Cultural Revolution, so it wasn't a complete waste of time.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Realini

    Farewell My Concubine, based on the novel by Pik Wah Lee A different version of this note and thoughts on other books are available at: - https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list... and http://realini.blogspot.ro/ Farewell My Concubine is a mesmerizing movie. You can find it on the New York Times ‘Best 1,000 Movies ever made list: - http://www.listchallenges.com/new-yor... It won the most important award in cinema-in my view: - The Palme d’Or And some cherries on top: - The Golden Globe and BAFTA for Best Farewell My Concubine, based on the novel by Pik Wah Lee A different version of this note and thoughts on other books are available at: - https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list... and http://realini.blogspot.ro/ Farewell My Concubine is a mesmerizing movie. You can find it on the New York Times ‘Best 1,000 Movies ever made list: - http://www.listchallenges.com/new-yor... It won the most important award in cinema-in my view: - The Palme d’Or And some cherries on top: - The Golden Globe and BAFTA for Best Foreign Film and other coveted prizes Farewell My Concubine is a compelling story And the audience does not feel it is about three hours long. The heroes are Cheng Dieyi and Duan Xiaolou, with an important part to play for Juxian, after the first quarter of the film. Dieyi would be “the leading role” and he is the concubine from the title, even if his sexual orientation is not 100% clear. - Not for me anyway - He could be homosexual- probably- but he might as well be transgender, or something else- bisexual?? It is attested today that people are born with a sexual orientation or another, even if there would be fundamentalists that deny that… And climate change, that the world is older than the bible says- it was created in more than seven days and so much more. In the case of Dieyi, the childhood experiences have had a major role and an impact difficult to assess on his personality. His mother was a prostitute and she decides to give the boy to this school or academy that trained opera singers. Here I have a qualm and have noticed a certain paradox that could be explained by the importance of the actors… The teacher, when he receives the child says something like: - You know, prostitutes and actors are despised in equal measure - Only later we can see that the stars of the opera are actually worshipped, but I guess it is just the celebrities The boys are beaten and in the case of Dieyi, they assign him the role of the concubine in an important Chinese work. Therefore he has to learn by heart lines that state at a certain point that he was “born a girl”, but he makes a mistake. That is punished severely and that school looks more like the training camp in Full Metal Jacket or films in that line. At another moment, the teacher is pleased because the boy does not know anymore – is he a girl or a boy- which means he is perfect for the part. In the background and also at center stage, we have the various important moments of Chinese history of the twentieth century- with the republic, then the occupation by the Japanese and the escape of the nationalists to Taiwan- I personally prefer that country and recognize it to the communist dragon- and finally the arrival of the communists and their “cultural revolution” and abuses… Throughout, Dieyi is not just committed to his friend- that he loves, probably has desires for- but he also risks his integrity and commits acts that he does not want in order to get Xiaolou out of trouble when the Japanese take him in, for instance. Juxian, who was initially a prostitute, complicates the dynamic and the love triangle makes for an interesting development. Dieyi hates his rival and the two compete up to the moment(s) where they have to cooperate to save the man they both love. This is indeed a miraculous work.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sophie

    Read it as part of the English course. It's sorry to see how much is lost during the translation, those lines that portray the dilemma, those punctuations, those poetic and drama like wordings. It did a great job using two small and normal people's lives in reflecting the bigger context in China. It was an extremely unstable and miserable era. it leads to 2 good artists failing to devote their time and passion to arts. Dieyi is always figuring out who he is: Yuji, Xiaolou's partner or even lover Read it as part of the English course. It's sorry to see how much is lost during the translation, those lines that portray the dilemma, those punctuations, those poetic and drama like wordings. It did a great job using two small and normal people's lives in reflecting the bigger context in China. It was an extremely unstable and miserable era. it leads to 2 good artists failing to devote their time and passion to arts. Dieyi is always figuring out who he is: Yuji, Xiaolou's partner or even lover, a man, a woman. he tries to be true in this era but time didn't give the time. he is confused, suffering as he never gets what he really wanted. he wants to become Yuji but he never is; he is still secular, that's why he was so shocked to witness the death of Siye. Poor Yuji, sympathetic Dieyi, regretful era.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Lynette Lark

    This book was slow to warm up and I almost abandoned it, but because it was made into a movie, I wanted to know why. The unrest in China was interesting because I haven't read a lot about the Occupation and the Revolution (what an ego-maniac Mao was with his "for the people" BS!). I will never understand what makes a dictator want to totally destroy culture--but the entire indoctriNATION system was unfathomable in its cruelty with the Red Guard (literally, children) going house to house looking This book was slow to warm up and I almost abandoned it, but because it was made into a movie, I wanted to know why. The unrest in China was interesting because I haven't read a lot about the Occupation and the Revolution (what an ego-maniac Mao was with his "for the people" BS!). I will never understand what makes a dictator want to totally destroy culture--but the entire indoctriNATION system was unfathomable in its cruelty with the Red Guard (literally, children) going house to house looking for any reason to break things and demean and beat the tenants--insane! With their little child minds, they were aimless and hit-or-miss and angry and not really knowing why even though they were born into Mao's communism and had little concept of what went on before. I need to watch the movie.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Misha

    A beautifully narrated tale of unrequited love and repetitive loss that left both a sad and joyful taste in my mouth. From the characters, who are retold in an almost poetic fashion, to the incredible world of Peking opera that Lee envelopes and showcases to her audience, it was a uniquely magical tale. Though I wish there had been a little more in depth into the characters, there was no doubt in my mind that the horrors and the accomplishments of the cast was felt. In a way, Lee captures the su A beautifully narrated tale of unrequited love and repetitive loss that left both a sad and joyful taste in my mouth. From the characters, who are retold in an almost poetic fashion, to the incredible world of Peking opera that Lee envelopes and showcases to her audience, it was a uniquely magical tale. Though I wish there had been a little more in depth into the characters, there was no doubt in my mind that the horrors and the accomplishments of the cast was felt. In a way, Lee captures the subtle beauty of former times and of people being caught in the past, against the grain and stark realization of a newly formed world.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Crystal Li

    An interesting read for those interested in the old Republic of China, Liyuan and the Cultural Revolution. I may have too high of an expectation for the book due to the amazing fame of the movie adaptation, but the bond between the two male protagonists saddens me nevertheless. If only their time could stop in the teenage dreams. The themes of masculinity & individuality are interesting to explore as well. I’m the traditional society those Dan males are being bent on their recognition of sexualit An interesting read for those interested in the old Republic of China, Liyuan and the Cultural Revolution. I may have too high of an expectation for the book due to the amazing fame of the movie adaptation, but the bond between the two male protagonists saddens me nevertheless. If only their time could stop in the teenage dreams. The themes of masculinity & individuality are interesting to explore as well. I’m the traditional society those Dan males are being bent on their recognition of sexuality, although they are despised by the society once out of their role fitted only for youth. A tragedy feigned with love and luxury, but realistic down to the bone.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sherika Dew

    Having seen the movie I was ecstatic to find out it was actually a book first. I loved the movie and only love it more after reading this book. The book was hard to understand in the beginning from all the uses of the different opera terms but I was able to follow along after a while. It really goes into the blending of real life and opera for the main characters and how their choices influenced the events to come. This book isn't well known but I would definitely recommend it for any historical Having seen the movie I was ecstatic to find out it was actually a book first. I loved the movie and only love it more after reading this book. The book was hard to understand in the beginning from all the uses of the different opera terms but I was able to follow along after a while. It really goes into the blending of real life and opera for the main characters and how their choices influenced the events to come. This book isn't well known but I would definitely recommend it for any historical fiction fans who don't mind a bit of LGBT themes. It was an enjoyable read.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Saha

    With emotional, but unsentimental, evocations of deep longings, unexpressed love, bitter gratuitous resentments, depressing disappointments or sadistic public tortures, transposed in such memorable scenes as the abandonment of a child by a mother, the hard educational exercises, the public `political' confessions or the unexpected encounter of old, but not `intimate friends', Lilian Lee wrote an unforgettable masterpiece. A must read. I also highly recommend the movie with the same title by Chen K With emotional, but unsentimental, evocations of deep longings, unexpressed love, bitter gratuitous resentments, depressing disappointments or sadistic public tortures, transposed in such memorable scenes as the abandonment of a child by a mother, the hard educational exercises, the public `political' confessions or the unexpected encounter of old, but not `intimate friends', Lilian Lee wrote an unforgettable masterpiece. A must read. I also highly recommend the movie with the same title by Chen Kaige, also a masterpiece.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Orangetails

    Okay, so the writing was great, but the story...while the story is undeniably a good one, I didn't particularly love it. It's queer literature, for one, and some of the scenes can get explicit, so there's that. It's also rather depressing. But as a topic for my research paper, this was a great source, so...I'm torn. Overall, writing = good, storyline = questionable.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kezia Ratna

    The description of China throughout the years is what keeps me interested. However, I feel it also compromises an opportunity to explore deeper emotions of the characters. There are things that just do not make up. Although the story in general is heartbreaking, it doesn't make me linger on the emotions much, though perhaps it was the writer's intention.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Shirleen

    I liked the second half of this book much better. That is where I gained an increased understanding of what it was like to live in China during the Cultural Revolution, as seen through the eyes of two opera singers. It was sad to see how much their lives were affected by the Revolution.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Νάγια Γρίβελλη

    Captivating with nice pace.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Adam Crossley

    This story takes an interesting love triangle and tosses it into the middle of fascinating and terrifying historical events. It makes for a great read! I enjoyed it thoroughly.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ruby

    Very delicate.

  26. 4 out of 5

    8314

    From the spoilers I've read the movie would be better. But this one is good enough.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    I prefer movie ending. But still good to read.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mya

    Delightful and heart wrenching at times, ought to be a classic.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Embry

    “. . . life is just a play. Or an opera,” Lilian Lee writes in her 1992 novel of hopeless love set against the backdrop China’s 20th century struggles. “It would be easier for all of us if we could watch only the highlights. . . but the players have no choice. Once the curtain goes up they have to perform the play from beginning to end. They have nowhere to hide.” The two young boys who will become known as Cheng Dieyi and Duan Xiaolou meet for the first time in 1929 (the 18th year after the over “. . . life is just a play. Or an opera,” Lilian Lee writes in her 1992 novel of hopeless love set against the backdrop China’s 20th century struggles. “It would be easier for all of us if we could watch only the highlights. . . but the players have no choice. Once the curtain goes up they have to perform the play from beginning to end. They have nowhere to hide.” The two young boys who will become known as Cheng Dieyi and Duan Xiaolou meet for the first time in 1929 (the 18th year after the overthrow of China’s last emperor, Lee lets us know), as apprentices in the centuries-old art of classical Chinese opera. The school where they study singing, acting and martial arts for stage fighting is a repository for the orphaned and abandoned, the young castoffs hoping for a start in life. It’s also a place of Dickensian grimness, misery and abuse, all in the name of art. Twelve-year-old Xiaolou, then known as Xiao Shitou (Little Rock) for his head so hard he can break bricks against it, is the biggest boy at the school. He protects the wounded younger boy from the school’s bullies. When their 10-year contracts of apprenticeship have been completed, the now-young men hope for better times, not knowing the greatest perils of their country's tumultuous 20th century are still ahead -- war with Japan and the Cultural Revolution. Lee mixes history with artistic traditions and the pangs of love in exploring the impact of a century of personal and political disaster on the lives of two men who are all too human.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Tom Meade

    "Give her a ying-and-yang haircut". Dieyi is ying, Xialou is yang, Juxian is the woman caught between them. 20th Century Chinese history is, as Lee points-out, the story of several hundred millions of people dragged from the middle ages to the 21st Century in the space of eighty years purely on the basis of the motives of powerful individuals in a society where the citizen must fight for the right to individuality - and even this slim hope was denied under the Maoist regime and the Gang of Four. "Give her a ying-and-yang haircut". Dieyi is ying, Xialou is yang, Juxian is the woman caught between them. 20th Century Chinese history is, as Lee points-out, the story of several hundred millions of people dragged from the middle ages to the 21st Century in the space of eighty years purely on the basis of the motives of powerful individuals in a society where the citizen must fight for the right to individuality - and even this slim hope was denied under the Maoist regime and the Gang of Four. To blame such tragedies purely on the machinations of history is a bald-faced lie. Humans are the actors in the opera. Even in the midst of the cultural revolution Xiaolou (albeit foolishly) finds it in himself to perform a bandit character "incorrectly" to the delight of the audience and the chagrin of the Party. The torture the three main characters suffer as children (the opera school for the boys, the brother for the Juxian) does in fact grant them the happiness they were promised. Then they are robbed by the vagaries of fate. The best way to sum-up this book, I feel, is to consider the implications for the egoist of the statement, paraphrased from the book: When has the nation ever cared for its citizens?

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