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Feathered Serpent: A Novel Hardcover – February 10, 2009

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books; First Edition edition (February 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416583807
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416583806
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,043,399 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Xu Xiaobin's mysterious and meditati ve writing goes much further. Her aparent desire is to emphasize that which is unknown and unknowable in the human heart, in the character's destiny, and in the civilization he or she inhabits."-- Jin Siyan, acclaimed author in present-day China

About the Author

Xu Xiaobin, born in 1953 into an intellectual family in Beijing, is a member of the China’s Writers Association. She spent nine years in the countryside and at a factory during the Cultural Revolution until 1978 when she entered the Chinese University of Central Finance just after universities had reopened and entrance examinations were held nation wide. She began publishing her writings in 1981. Currently she works as a staff screenplay writer at China’s Television Production Center. She has published numerous fictions, novellas and collections of prose.

John Howard-Gibbon is a world renowned translator and Chinese literature scholar. Until recently he held the position of deputy-editor-in-chief of China Daily which is the largest and most authoritative English –language newspaper in China. He has translated many works from Chinese, notably Lao She's Teahouse and Chen Ran's A Private Life.

Joanne Wang earned a BA in English literature from Shanghai; a MA in history in New York. She has worked as a freelance translator for more than ten years, in addition to having worked in publishing for a number of years and starting her own literary agency with a strong focus on Chinese writers.

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Customer Reviews

The main character is very interesting.
Boston Lesbian
Truly fresh and original it is all the more inspiring due to the expertise of the writing style and translation.
I had to really force myself to stay awake to read this book.
P. Cannon

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By David W. Straight on January 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I might first note that some knowledge of classic Chinese literature might be helpful. There are references (some of which have footnotes) to what for ordinary Chinese would be familiar. Sun Wukong, the Monkey King in Journey to the West, was often held up as a role model by Mao. Sima Yi and Zhuge Liang are major characters in The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which is probably the best-known Chinese classic. Having said that, it is also important to note that this novel is published in the PRC: there are consequently some constraints to be expected vis-a-vis what political and social views might be openly discussed. If this novel were written by a political exile now living in the US, you might see something quite different.

Feathered Serpent is primarily about the women in a family, going back to the late 19th century. You get to see the cultural changes. Pale, unweathered skin, foot binding, tattoos, the rough and weathered hands of a field worker--the standards of "beauty" change. Life under the Dowager Empress, under Chiang, Mao, and the present regime are all quite different. You are made painfully aware of the superiority of sons over daughters. Yu/Yushe is the central figure, but she is the 4th generation in the novel, and there's also a 5th generation. This is not a family of peasant workers, although some in the book must work in the fields.

You get a very different kind of novel from what most of us are used to. The threads of the generations swirl around--everything is not in a nice careful chronological order. Doing so might have made the reader's job easier, but then the point would have been missed altogether. It's a richly textured novel, satisfying, but not one you can rush through.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I have to agree with a previous three-star reviewer: although this book can be absorbed fairly easily on a page-by-page basis, there is very little in it that keeps you reading. Were I simply reflecting my own lack of involvement, I would have given the novel one or two stars rather than three. But there is also the possibility that I am missing something that others more familiar with the culture would better understand, and readers with different expectations may get more out of this book, so I leave the matter open to doubt.

From the prepublication description, I had expected something like a fictional version of Jung Chang's memoir WILD SWANS, the story of the tumultuous changes in China over the past century as reflected in the lives of several generations of women in a single family. This is not at all the case. Although the book starts even further back, in the last years of the Qing monarchy, and comes very close to the present, it is very difficult to get much sense of the underlying political upheavals; in this respect, the short historical time-line given at the end is very helpful. Compounding the problem is the fact that the story is not told chronologically, but jumps around between generations, sometimes several times on the same page. The women in the main family line are easy enough to distinguish: Xuanming with the tiny feet, the cold aristocratic Ruomu, and her troubled daughter Yushe, the feathered serpent of the title. But when all the names are so unfamiliar, it is easy to get lost among all the relatives, servants, and hangers-on, and to cease to care about them as individuals.

All right, so this is not intended as a work of history.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Mai Zhang on January 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The Feathered Serpent is a novel worth reading!

Probably due to the writer's extensive training in fine arts, the language of the Feathered Serpent is highly textured. Like an imagist poet equipped with the multimedia of the modern age, the writer portrayed a cinematographic epic with her silky language. Through the developments of the destinies of the heroines of the novel, the readers are able to probe the pulse of a real China of the past two centuries.

The poetic language provides the narratives with an unlimited space for imagination, which is at the same time moderated by the concreteness of history.

The Feathered Serpent is by no means a sentimental piece of female writing meant for the faint hearted. Unlike the female characters of Virginia Woolf, the heroines of the Feathered Serpent didn't resort to escapism. Instead, they either became the helpers of the patriarchal power or the challengers against their patriarchal mothers.

Translating such a piece of writing almost seemed a mission impossible. But I should admit that the translation published by Simon Schuster has exceeded my expectation. Based on principles of FAITHFULNESS, ELEGANCE and EXPRESSIVENESS, the English translation of the Feathered Serpent has reached a very high level of contemporary Chinese English translation. A highly artistic piece of writing, the Feathered Serpent tells its stories in such a gripping manner that most readers will feel naturally involved in the unraveling of all main characters' destinies. However, I would suggest all readers review the chronicle of events included in the appendix before they even start the 1st page.
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