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Old Town Paperback – January 25, 2011


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A Note on the Title
Originally published as Riddles of Belief...and Love: A Story, the latest edition of Lin Zhe's novel has been titled Old Town.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: AmazonCrossing (January 25, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1611090075
  • ISBN-13: 978-1611090079
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.6 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (175 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #953,980 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review


A Q&A with Author Lin Zhe

Beijing-based author Lin Zhe has written 14 novels and three TV series. Time Out Beijing caught up with Lin Zhe and published the following interview.

Although Old Town is mostly set in the old town of Fuzhou, the action partly takes place in the States. What literary influences
helped create it?


The contents of Old Town is very Chinese, but the style – a less constrained style – is very Western. I like the French writer Marguerite Duras: she also uses freedom with time and space. When I write I feel that I am breaking away from the real world and stepping into a place which is much more free.

In the novel the older characters of the family live by simple values of Christian faith and Chinese tradition; by contrast your narrator represents a chaotic and lost generation who focus only on  themselves. How important is faith in the novel?

The different generations in the book are strung together by faith, and today’s China has a great hunger and thirst for faith. Faith answers questions everyone needs to face: why we are living in this world, the meaning of life, where I am from and where shall I go. Many people feel depressed because they have no answers to these problems. I’m not saying that one faith is right. I just want to let people know that we need to take care of our spiritual life, especially in a time of great materialism – like today.

You’re currently producing a Chinese TV series based on Old Town. What are the differences between writing a novel and writing a script?


Scripts have many technical requirements: for me, it’s more of a job, more of a routine. But with novels there are almost no limitations. I simply follow my feelings and let them lead me.

Interview by Cecilia Wu and Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore for Time Out Beijing.

About the Author

Lin Zhe (pen name of Zhang Yonghong) was born in 1956 of Han Chinese parents then serving in the People’s Liberation Army in Kashi (Kashgar), a small frontier city in what is now Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. After graduating from the Chinese Language and Literature Department of Fudan University in 1980, she worked as a reporter and editor for Women of China Magazine in Beijing. She has written fourteen novels that focus on women’s issues relating to marriage and personal and family life, as well as three TV drama series.

George A. Fowler lived and traveled widely in the Asia Pacific region for over 30 years, first as a Marine, then as a student of Chinese and Malay, and finally for 23 years as a commercial banker. He has most recently translated Marah Rusli's classic Indonesian Malay novel Sitti Nurbaya, which will soon be published by Lontar in Jakarta.


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Customer Reviews

I struggled to finish this book.
PSW
Story line is very difficult to follow goes back and forth from the past and current times.
Lorine DAgostino
I learned a great deal about the Chinese culture and history of it's wars.
Cynthia Tardif

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

175 of 179 people found the following review helpful By Dave Schwartz VINE VOICE on February 18, 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
A really good novel, even more than a film, can get the reader inside the minds of its characters. OLD TOWN is a novel that lets the reader vicariously experience three generations of life in China. Spanning much of the 20th century, the narrative covers the country's most tumultuous period.

At first, adjusting to some of the conventions of Chinese nomenclature might take some getting used to. Most of the characters are referred to by their relationship titles rather than proper names: for example, Ninth Brother and Second Sister are the maternal grandparents of the narrator. Once the reader gets the hang of this, it feels quite natural and probably helps maintain the Chinese "feel" of the novel. Translator George Fowler made a good call there.

Although OLD TOWN deals with one family's story, it's really an epic about an entire era. We see the struggles of the 1930s and 1940s, culminating in the victory of the Communist Party, followed by the catastrophes of the "Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution," ending in a modern China where status is more closely tied to money than ideological purity.

One aspect of the book that is likely to attract little notice in China but may surprise Western readers is its presentation of China as a heterogeneous country, with divisions of old and young, rich and poor, right and left, North and South, city and country. It's not a portrayal that usually comes through in Western novels or films. Throughout the book, almost incidentally, Zhe lets the reader see just how large and varied the country is.

Outside of educating the reader about Chinese history, geography, and literature (a helpful timeline, map, and family tree, as well as footnotes for literary and cultural references, help the reader keep up with a great deal), OLD TOWN is a wonderful story about faith, family, change, and continuity. It's a novel that truly immerses the reader, in the best sense of the word.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I will make this review short. The book "Old Town" is a long book, yet the stories are quite fascinating. This is a story lover's book excellently translated.

Do look at the map and notice that Old Town is located in Fukien province. You also must be aware that China is a land of many dialects which are, in fact different languages in some cases, more different than Italian and Spanish.

This is a book about family and characters. Also it sheds light on the endurance of Chinese culture even though it would seem that Chairman Mao tried to have it destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.

I am specifically interested in China and its history. But this book is larger than that of specific area. For example, it makes me wish I had spent more time talking to my grandparents, now dead, of the people in their families and written them down. I wouldn't even have to be literary about it. There are stories I was lucky enough to have heard, but have forgotten many of the details and I feel sadness at that in addition to the stories I know, there are those I never even heard. Besides containing stories of human events, Chinese culture, individual characters and humanity in general, the book made me nostalgic about my family's history and geneology.
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By A. Silverstone VINE VOICE on October 19, 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
As fascinating as parts of Lin Zhe's historical saga Old Town is, this books is badly in need of an editor. More often than not, it feels like a repetitive slow slog. It is probably 1/3 to 1/2 too long. This is a shame, because that takes away from a spell binding story set in Southern China. The story focuses on 3 generations of a family history. The grandparents are known by the traditional nicknames used in families Ninth Brother and Second Sister. Using this type of nomenclature has the double effect of retaining the Chinese feel, and making easier not to have to recognize unfamiliar names. We see how these rural, but educated (Ninth Brother is a doctor), are buffeted by the tides of history. One sees the promise of pre-PRC communism, and then the devastation that it wrought in its full paranoid glory. Whether intentionally or not, Lin Zhe portray's the grandparents generation as the Greatest Generation, and each successive generation degenerates (or perhaps because of circumstances) until you reach the self-centered, whining narrator of today.
The book follows the granddaughter of Ninth Brother and Second Sister as she travels back to Old Town relating her failures in love and career and then flashes back to the post Qing dynasty era, the civil war, and then communist rule. The difficulties (hunger, uncertainty, fighting) are only compounded by the usual cast of characters who would find a home in any daytime soap opera (alcoholics, thieves, violent tempers, unrequited love, and the list goes on). What is unusual about the Ninth Brother and Second Sister is their Christian faith, certainly a rarity in China. What is a bit annoying is that the frequent use of prayers detracts from the the themes of of faith and redemption rather than underscoring.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Janet Perry VINE VOICE on March 8, 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
There is no doubt that China has been through many changes in the last 100 year: the end of the Empire, occupation, political turmoil, revolution, the changes of Communism, and the post-Mao China of today.

The author is a well-known author and journalist in China and this book is her retelling of that history, as seen through the lives of one family in "Old Town" a small town in Southeastern China.

The story is told through a woman's eyes, in the first person. She's a divorced businesswoman and the story deftly marries her experiences today with the main plot -- the tale of her grandparents. They are never given names, but are called Ninth Brother and Second Sister throughout. While this seems odd, the translator points out that this is common in Chinese.

We follow Ninth Brother from his childhood and Second Sister from her teens, both from before their marriage. They live and die in Old Town, facing war (Ninth Brother becomes a doctor in the Chinese Army), revolution (their children become Communists), and many other difficulties.

It's a lovely and compelling way to tell their stories and China's history.

What I found most intriguing about the book is that Ninth Brother and Second Sister are Christians and while the author (and narrator) are not their faith and motivations are clearly and sympathetically drawn. I suspect that it's unusual to find this level of understanding in a book written by a non-Christian in an Eastern culture and it contribute greatly to the fullness of the characters and our sympathy with them.

The book is long, not surprising considering how much time it covers, but never drags. I found myself often wanting to continue reading.
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