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Loving Sabotage Hardcover – November, 2000
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From Publishers Weekly
Readers who have yet to discover the feather-ruffling pleasures of reading popular Belgian author Nothomb (The Stranger Next Door), winner of the Prix du Roman de L'Academie Francaise and other prizes, should jump at the chance with this utterly disarming send-up of a precocious seven-year-old girl's collision with Communist China. Based on the author's experiences as the daughter of diplomats stationed in Peking (Beijing) from 1972 to 1975, the work is a frequently hilarious first-person account of an intrepid heroine who discovers life's ironies through the warped prism 0f CommunismDthat freedom springs from oppression and beauty blossoms where ugliness prevails. The narrator's family is warehoused in the foreigners' ghetto, San Li Tun, where the numerous unsupervised children of various nationalities spend their time fashioning an elaborate and ruthless game of war, designating the East German contingent as the enemy. When exquisite Elena, an unfeeling Italian six-year-old, arrives in the ghetto, the narrator's cheerful savagery is sabotaged by her obsessive love for the imperious beauty. While the narrator goes to ridiculous and heartrending lengths to make her adoration known to Elena, Nothomb interjects her brilliantly simple observations regarding the Communist regime: the running of a school art contest was like a "Rumanian electoral campaign"; the family's Chinese interpreter , Mr. Chang, disappears, only to be replaced by a woman who insists on being called Comrade Chang. With deadpan, ironical bite, Nothomb re-creates a child's insular, supremely egocentric world. While the Chinese setting is evocative, this short novel will benefit from targeting to any reader who is sympathetic to a child's view of the world. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
A charming, devious little book. -- Trenton Times, David Finkle, 3 December 2000
Hilarious and fierce, Nothomb captures the essence of childhoodits self-centered preoccupation, seriousness and joy. -- Lynn Harnett, Portsmouth, NH Herald Sunday, 6 May 2001
Nothomb is certainly victorious. Not only is the story compelling, the prose is exceptional. -- Review of Contemporary Fiction, Alan Tinkler, Summer 2001
[A] delight to read. -- Washington Times, Corinna Lothar, 31 December 2000
[A]ble to convey the world of the young in spry and delightful ways. -- The Review of Arts, Lit, Philosophy, and the Humanities, Sandra MacPhearson, October/November 2000
[Nothomb's] acidic yet passionately romantic view of human nature is on full display... -- Elle, Ben Dickinson, February 2001
[O]ne marvelous little book....one of the best books about childhood we can recall, and we recommend it very, very highly. -- The Complete Review, Winter 2001
Top customer reviews
In the midst of this atmosphere, young Amelie (and the author, in an afterword, maintains that the story is a true one, that even the names have not been changed) is pretty much left to fend for herself during the days. She rides her bicycle (she refers to it as her horse) through the Peking streets, offended that the Chinese guards at the compound gate do not see her as a threat to them. She has an active imagination -- one of the blessings of being seven years old -- and sees herself in vivid roles as a hero. The other children in the compound seem to be growing up the same way, and to amuse themselves, they engage in what they call a 'war' with the children of the East German diplomats.
With the arrival of a beautiful little girl named Elena, the child of an Italian diplomat and his South American wife, Amelie feels for the first time in her young life the magnetic pull of love for another person. She is entranced and obsessively infatuated with the little girl, who is cold and distant -- which only serves to make her more of an attraction. The lessons Amelie learns about love and friendship -- and the observations she shares with us of her world -- make this a touching, readable book. The feeling I was left with after reading it was one of sadness -- there's a lot of loneliness and heartbreak in this story, lessons that are tough to see a child learn by herself.
Nothomb's writing is a little choppy -- but that is most likely appropriate in this case, given the age of the narrator. In retrospect, I think it added some authenticity to that aspect of the story. I definitely want to read more of this author's work in order to gain a better perspective on her style and talents.
This is a brilliant, engrossing little book that portrays the self-centered, omniscient bliss of childhood in the setting of Communist China. China is not so much a driving force or a character in itself as a spectre in the background, tainting all of the narrator's experiences ever so slightly. Descriptions are passionate and vibrant, and the narrator embodies childhood perfectly: idealistic but without pretense or illusion, and comfortable in the belief that their little world is all that matters.
I was fascinated by this book, and loved everything from the narrator's humorous descriptions of her exploits to the unrestrained emotion and nostalgia the author so deftly maintains throughout.