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The Butcher's Wife (Peter Owen Modern Classic) Paperback – July 1, 2002

4.6 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

This brutally realistic and groundbreaking novella was both acclaimed and excoriated when first published in Taiwan in 1983. The author, born in Taiwan and educated in America, has taken a sensational murder case of the 1930s and set it in her native town. Trapped in marriage to a vicious husband by a superstitious, male-dominated society, Lin Shi is slowly driven to madness and murder. That she killed her husband to escape physical and sexual abuse was unimaginable; a Chinese wife who kills her husband has always been presumed to have a lover, and Lin Shi is punished accordingly. This compelling portrait of a world where poverty erodes all but the most primeval instincts transcends feminism to become a great human tragedy. Unforgettable, and highly recommended. Shelley Cox, Special Collections, Southern Illinois Univ. Lib., Carbondale
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

In 1930s China, one woman defied the cultural assumption that a woman would only murder her husband in order to be with a lover; in this instance the woman insisted she had killed her husband to stop his abuses. Five decades later, Li Ang's novella The Butcher's Wife, which uses the real-life murder as its basis, created both a literary sensation and wide-spread outrage about its subject matter. Li Ang's depiction is graphic and brutal, mirroring and reinforcing the life of its lead character, Lin Shin, and the sexism and cultural superstitions that surround her. After a childhood of starvation and hard work, Lin Shin marries a pig butcher named Chen Jiangshui. He is a violent, abusive husband, but Lin Shin's relief at finally having enough food to eat and less work to do helps her to endure the frequent rapes and beatings. Conditions worsen, however, and she is isolated by the vicious gossip of neighbors who condemn her for screaming aloud: "As women, we're supposed to be tolerant and put our husbands above everything else. Who ever heard of anyone raising such a stink over a little pain once in a while!" Trapped without guidance or support, Lin Shin follows her husband's example. While The Butcher's Wife is not an easy read, it is an important book on a neglected issue, which, by its very outspokeness, has profoundly affected Chinese literature. -- For great reviews of books for girls, check out Let's Hear It for the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14. -- From 500 Great Books by Women; review by Erica Bauermeister --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Peter Owen Modern Classic
  • Paperback: 188 pages
  • Publisher: Peter Owen Publishers (July 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 072061161X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0720611618
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.5 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,497,569 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Kit Welsh on September 15, 2012
Format: Paperback
So this isn't exactly what I'd call a happy book. And by "this isn't exactly what I'd call a happy book," I mean it's depressing as all get out. I totally recommend it, but be warned, the book contains graphic details of rape, abuse, violence and gore. If you can't handle any of those items, I'd sit this one out.

Li Ang, the auther of the Butcher's Wife was inspired by the story real murder committed in the 1930's. According to traditional Chinese society, a woman who has killed her husband must have committed the murder due to her having committed an extramarital affair. The Butcher's Wife seeks to disprove that notion, giving us an idea of what kind of abuse might push someone to that edge.

Books like this one are important to remind us how society can fail certain people. The protagonist, Lin Shi, has absolutely zero resources available to her. She is trapped in her marriage by her ignorance and by her communities ignorance, as well as slut shamed by her neighbors for constant rape at the hands of her husband. As an American audience, it is very easy to separate ourselves from her life and say that Taiwan is oh so very far away, but the truth is, abuse happens everywhere, in a myriad of different ways. Books like this can reflect a very sad reality and point out common weaknesses everywhere. While it is an important read, I have to say, I was very glad it was a novella and not longer than it was, or I probably would not have made it all the way through. At its core, it is the portrayal of the destruction of a young woman, and as I said at the beginning, it's not exactly cheerful stuff. Excellent work, however.
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This story was well written but the characters were so morbid and unusual that it left me feeling disturbed after I finished the book. You can't help but analyze and wonder about the characters and what they could have done differently and why they behaved they way they did. It also gives you a good look at Taiwanese superstitions, village culture, stereotypes, and characteristics of the time period. It's a very interesting and strange story.
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Notes on Diversity:
Diversity is the wrong word here1; this is a Taiwanese book written for a Taiwanese audience populated by Taiwanese people. It's authentic. If you're looking to read outside of Western authors, and you're looking for something particularly dark and excruciatingly feminist, then check this out.

There are no queer characters, but Western notions of queerness may not fully apply here, so I may well have missed some subtext. There are characters who deal with physical disabilities--Auntie Ah-Wang hobbling to and fro on her bound feet is a particularly striking example.

This book deals, explicitly and vividly, with sexual and physical abuse. It is not an easy book to read. Much of the plot and much of the text is devoted to detailing how Lin Shi, the main character, tries and fails to cope with her husband's continued abuse.

Review:
Li Ang's The Butcher's Wife is harrowing. And feminist. And brilliant.

I first read this book in college. I worked at the library circulation desk; someone turned it in and I picked it up and read it. I didn't know anything about it. I read it, and it was horrible and fascinating and etched itself into my brain. I've thought about it off and on in the years since and recently ordered a copy and reread it. It definitely held up to the reread.

The Butcher's Wife is about a woman, Lin Shi, in a small village in Taiwan who is sent off to marry a pig butcher by her uncle, Chen Jiangshui. Right from the start, she's traded like cattle, treated like goods: ownership of herself, her fate, her body is clearly not hers.
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A true story, very brutal and vivid, strong personalities in difficult times, I really liked it a lot and will read it again.
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I felt terrible for Lin Shi, a young Taiwanese girl in this book, when I read it. I felt terrible that anyone would have to live a life like this. I cannot imagine having an arranged marriage, let alone an arranged marriage from someone who didn't care about me. She is forced to marry a pig butcher and the abuse he puts her through is terrible. She is a vegetarian and I thought that played a big part in the story. He treats her terribly and makes her do things she doesn't want to, and she is driven to madness and finally murders her husband. The reality of the cruelty in this book will just send shivers up your back.
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