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Five Spice Street (The Margellos World Republic of Letters) Hardcover – March 24, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The inhabitants of Five Spice Street gossip, spy and seduce one another in this lovely surrealist romp. At the center of the drama is Madame X, a mysterious figure who has a strange hold on her neighbors' imaginations. She could be anywhere from 22 to 50 years old, according to her neighbors, and her notions were deeply at odds with the traditions of Five Spice Street. Much of the fascination comes from her affair with Mr. Q. Meanwhile, a figure known only as the widow spends her time protecting the neighborhood from Madame X and Mr. Q by reading their letters, investigating their rooms and making bold, if unsubstantiated, claims about their character. The translators do a marvelous job of preserving the prose's lyricism, which enhances the surreal scenes that seem to be the stuff of everyday life on Five Spice Street. Xue's stridently weird and vainglorious characters are quite a bizarre retinue, and the air of paranoia and mystery is perfectly captured. (Mar.)
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From Booklist

There are plenty of pungent goings-on at Five Spice Street, the odd locale ruled by an enigmatic “Madam X” in Xue’s first novel-length work to be published in English. No one knows the age of Madam X, who holds undeniable sway over those around her. She’s romantically linked to Mr. Q (a letter-perfect match, no doubt). Inhabitants of Spice Street find an ally in a woman known only as “the widow,” who probes the lives of Madam X and Mr. Q, drawing brazen, albeit unjustified, conclusions about the pair. Who is the mysterious Madam X? Is she a mistress of the occult or merely a modern-day manipulator? What is it about her that prompts others to probe their souls? Xue (Dialogues in Paradise, 1989) is the pseudonym of Chinese novelist and short-story writer Deng Xiaohua. Here she blends surrealism à la Dali with a hefty dose of existential angst. Prickly and provocative, Five Spice Street poses penetrating questions about the search for identity and the definition of self. --Allison Block
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Product Details

  • Series: The Margellos World Republic of Letters
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (March 24, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300122276
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300122275
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,163,607 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Dick Johnson VINE VOICE on June 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having just finished this, I am hastening to write the review before I (hopefully) regain my sanity!

I can't believe I've spent 329 pages in China. I had to have been in Japan. This sort of modernist, post-three or four things, experimental work is quite usual for a Japanese author. This magical, circular, avant-garde style isn't your typical Chinese style.

This book is filled with symbolism (I think). If so, I'm pretty sure I figured out some of them and I'm totally certain that some (most?) flew over my head. I think the only way to reach total comprehension is to visit Five Spice Street. I am very afraid, though, that there are roads leading in - but none leading out!

Spending some time on Five Spice Street was extraordinary. The writing (translated) was well done and the humor snuck up on me cleverly. The characters are (literally) indescribable - since they "are" the story, the only way to describe them is to quote the entire book. A few are probably certifiable and a few display genius, but most are merely strangely normal or normally strange.

Please read the Editorial Reviews above for information on the story line. If you are a fan of post-modern and/or innovative literature, give this one a shot. If not, then you should pass on this one.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By James W. Fonseca on December 29, 2013
Format: Paperback
An attractive married woman scandalizes a small city in China with her occult hobbies and by (possibly) having an affair. She may be 30 years old or 50, and, in fact, we know almost nothing about her for certain. It becomes clear that everyone sees aspects of themselves in her (much of her occult activity involves mirrors) so there can be no agreement among the locals about who she really is and what she is up to. The locals hold community meetings to discuss her and a reporter appears to investigate and to write up her story. Thus we have a parody of the Chairman Mao era of community meetings, re-education and self-criticism. Since the author was born in 1953, she lived through these terrible times of the Cultural Revolution. Female characters are developed in depth but the men are peripheral to the story. There is a lot of insight in this work but 330 pages of continuous speculation about who this woman is becomes, at times, a chore to read.
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