From Publishers Weekly
A peerless singer in the Peking Opera is ruined by her jealousy of her understudy in this vividly sketched tale of art and money by Chinese screenwriter (Shanghai Triad
) and novelist Feiyu. In 1979, 20 years before the novel takes place, the actress Xiao Yanqiu debuted brilliantly and memorably as the lead in The Moon Opera
, although she soon wrecked her career when she attacked her understudys teacher in a fit of rage at sharing the spotlight. Now 40, unhappily married and overweight, Xiao is offered the chance to reprise her role in a new production bankrolled by a factory owner and former fan. Xiao, who assumes the role to perfection, chooses as her understudy a gifted student, Chunlai, who postpones a TV career for the promise of the stage. The scene is set for a terrible showdown, naturally, complicated by the clash between art and money, as exemplified by the crass interests of the factory owner. The novels slimness, simple storytelling and overarching morality lend it a fable-like air, with Xiao filling the role of its tormented star. (Jan.)
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*Starred Review* This slender novel on a rather narrow topic nevertheless resonates with a clear, crystalline bell tone. The Chinese author, in his first novel, brings his admirably, even stunningly, precise and effortlessly metaphoric style to bear (“That slip of paper was a sigh from the wind”) on one aspect of Chinese culture that has transcended the change in regimes over the centuries: the Peking opera. As we, in fascination, observe here, the Peking opera is a tightly ritualized, tradition-bound art form, and the more nuanced and subtle the performance, the more highly regarded the performer. The novel’s conceit is that a wealthy factory owner is prepared to endow a new production of The Moon Opera, which has not been performed for two decades; however, the factory owner’s stipulation is that the production must star the lead female singer who performed it previously. She, though, has essentially retired from the stage and is now a singing teacher. The story, then, becomes the story of this prima donna’s attempt to recapture the role and her former fame, and what she learns about her true legacy to the Peking opera. At once a sad and lovely story. --Brad Hooper