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The Red Chamber Hardcover – Deckle Edge, July 10, 2012

4.3 out of 5 stars 119 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Pauline Chen’s boldly imagined retelling of The Dream of the Red Chamber is a literary wonder. An epic yet intimate account of palace intrigue and political tumult that dazzles on every page. Heartbreaking, exhilarating, and impossible to put down.”
—Julie Otsuka, author of The Buddha in the Attic
“Rarely does a cast of beloved literary figures from another culture and time come alive on the pages of a modern writer’s work. Pauline Chen has reimagined the characters from my very favorite novel to make a compelling new version of China’s great literary masterpiece. I highly recommend The Red Chamber. It will transport you into an altogether new world.” 
—Arthur Golden, author of Memoirs of a Geisha
“In Pauline Chen’s transporting interpretation of the Chinese classic The Dream of the Red Chamber, the byzantine machinations and behind-the-screen politics of the Jia family are so skillfully rendered as to bring to mind a delicate ink painting suddenly and vividly brought to life. A remarkable achievement.”
—Janice Lee, author of The Piano Teacher
The Red Chamber draws a memorable portrait of the Qing dynasty era, revealing a dangerous world of intrigue and secrets within the entrapping web of societal mores and manners. Written in a precise, cinematic style, Chen's novel brings this fascinating historical period to vivid life.”  
—Dan Chaon, author of Stay Awake

“Fans of historical fiction who appreciate resonant details, unexpected intrigue, and multigenerational plotting will find this work irresistible. With just the right blend of the highbrow literary and guilty summer pulp, Chen just might put this 18th-century classic on 21st-century bestseller lists.” 
Library Journal
“A vivid portrait…From the mighty heights to the depths of poverty and despair, the significance of female relationships, friendships, and rivalries are at the forefront of this compelling glimpse into an exotic time and place.”
“A vivid, lively reimagining…Despite their Eastern origins, Chen’s engaging heroines seem like direct descendants of the doomed, repressed women of classic Western literature.”
Book Page
“Leisurely…supple…Chen often touches notes of emotional depth.”
Kirkus Reviews
“Ambitious and exquisite…utterly absorbing…sure to astound and enthrall readers up until the very last page. The Red Chamber reads like a Chinese Downton Abbey and is a fitting homage to a beloved masterpiece.”
—Tribute Books
“The excesses of Imperial China frame this elegant story of shifting fortunes, power struggles, palace intrigue, betrayal, and love…The Red Chamber takes a long hard look at the complex interconnected desires, ambitions, and conventions that can bind a family together—or tear it apart.”
—The Daily Beast, “Hot Reads”
“Moving, startling, and quite beautiful…a welcome, memorable introduction to characters vivid in the imaginations of generations of Chinese readers.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Compelling…intricate…thoughtful and provocative…No doubt Chen has provided us with a work that will not only be found on the list of historical classics but also become a part of the lexicon of the greatest love stories in the world.”

“Here is clearly a work of love and a pleasing introduction to a novel—and a world—that Americans deserve to get to know.”
—The Columbus Dispatch

“The Red Chamber
offers a window into a foreign world…Chen’s framework provides a context for her characters’ actions, as often flawed as they are heroic, that makes things not just knowable but comprehensible.”
—The Denver Post

“Full of lavish details of the palace, sumptuous feasts, and day-day minutiae, levitating whispered conversations overheard by the wrong parties, capricious scheming between family members, and gossip hidden beneath every elegant tapestry and beaded pillow to lofted heights…There’s much to do about more serious matters, too—especially in the latter half of the novel, when political unrest in Beijing threatens to destroy the family’s tenuous hierarchy.”
—Publishers Weekly

“Bold and memorable…Chen retells and recreates in lush detail the daily life inside the Rongguo Mansion, where scandalous secrets and lies are hidden behind a grand façade.”
—Chicago Tribune

New York Daily News
Summer 2012 Must-Reads

About the Author

Pauline A. Chen earned her B.A. in classics from Harvard, her J.D. from Yale Law School, and her Ph.D. in East Asian studies from Princeton. She has taught Chinese language, literature, and film at the University of Minnesota and Oberlin College. She is also the author of a novel for young readers, Peiling and the Chicken-Fried Christmas, and lives in Ohio with her two children.  

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 388 pages
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf; 1st edition (July 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307701573
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307701572
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (119 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,040,757 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Much is made of the fact that Pauline Chen has "reimagined" one of the great novels of Chinese literature, "Dream of the Red Chamber", in this debut novel. I am inclined to skepticism, however, as I would be if someone decided to "reimagine" Chaucer or Shakespeare. For example, none of the original magical, supernatural trappings of "Dream of the Red Chamber" make it into Chen's novel, thereby removing an entire layer of meaning, depth and beauty from her re-imagining of it; this is rather like rewriting "A Midsummer Night's Dream" but leaving out all the fairies. Also missing are the philosophical discussions, the poetry, the intricately braided plots that lend such fascinating complexity to this classic.

I'll grant that Chen had hard choices to make, since the original ending to "Dream of the Red Chamber" is lost, and a tacked-on ending by another author more or less reverses the tale of feudal dissolution that dominates the first half of the novel. Just as "Gone With the Wind" is not just about the romance between Scarlett and Rhett, "Dream of the Red Chamber" is more than a romantic tragedy; it's a sometimes devastating critique of feudal society. But Pauline Chen has dropped almost all of the political and philosophical commentary that makes this 18th century novel so refreshingly contemporary. What remains is a serviceable soap opera, overlaid with the glaze of exotic locale and custom. Move any modern soap opera far enough into the past, and it gains an air of faux respectability or importance that might not accrue to it in a modern setting.

Chen straddles both these approaches by keeping her tale set in 18th century China, but narrating it in the present tense. This bizarre juxtaposition of ancient setting and ultramodern narrative style threw me off very frequently.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
If not for Amazon Vine program, I might have put this book down after the second chapter, which would have been a huge mistake. The story builds slowly and can initially be confusing due to difficulty remembering the Chinese names, yet this book turned out to be unforgettable.

As the authors note depicts, The Red Chamber is inspired by Cao Xuequin's "Dream of the Red Chamber" a beloved 18th century Chinese novel. The author, Pauline A. Chen, writes "What follows is my attempt to finish the story for myself, while paying homage to this beloved masterpiece and sharing it with a wider audience." What a fascinating story this turns out to be.

When Daiyu's mother, Jia Min dies, her last request is that her daughter return to Beijing, and her family who has disowned her. In Beijing, Daiyu meets the Jia Family and is amazed by the lavish lifestyle they lead. The Jia's are a very influential family due to their connection with the Imperial family of China. At the palace of Rongguo, Daiyu meets her uncle Jia Zheng the Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Works, her calculating and cold grandmother Lady Jia, and her cousins Jia Lian and his wife Wang Xifeng. Most important is the relationship she develops with her charismatic cousin Jia Baoyu. The grieving Daiyu feels an immediate attraction to her cousin which he quickly reciprocates. As was the social custom in 18th century China, the Jias are also living with another influential family the Xues, the widowed sister-in law of Jia Zheng's and her daughter Xue Baochai and son Xue Pan. Baochai has also been enamored with Baoyu, but never confident enough to think she can win his love.
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Format: Paperback
In the 1980s my husband and I visited China a number of times with Chinese friends. On the last trip, I was given the 3-volume set of "A Dream of Red Mansions." For years I struggled through the first volume with the cast of characters at my side. I felt I knew enough about China to tackle the story, but I was sadly mistaken. I made it half-way through the second volume before I gave up. I kept the books on my shelf intending to get back to them someday. In the meantime I devoured every other Chinese novel. I finally came across "The Red Chamber," and would like to thank Pauline Chen for her wonderful adaption of this old story. Now that I've finished her book, it may be just the encouragement I needed to pick up where I left off with the original.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I ordered the sample for my Kindle and didn't finish it. This book held no appeal for me. It was recommended by someone who loved the book so my suggestion is to order the sample and see if it's for you before buying the book.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I have not been a fan of Asian movies so I did not expect to enjoy this one but I loved every page. It took a while to remember all the names and where they fitted but that was a minor issue. I was so taken with the reality of this complex family and how they interacted. All successfully due to the wonderful writing style.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Pauline Chen's debut novel, "The Red Chamber" is a brilliant premiere entry into the world of literature. The story is gleaned from the classic "Dream of the Red Chamber" by Cao Xuequin but is reinvented with a modern touch, most notably in dialogue. Yet Chen keeps the poetry and imagery of 18th Century China completely in the mix and the result is a masterwork that compares easily with "Raise the Red Lantern" (and surpasses it) and other stories that center around the woman's plight in Chinese culture of that era.

While there are many characters to keep track of and the book starts off a bit unclear, by the 3rd chapter I was hooked and soon deeply invested in the story. At over 350 pages with fairly small type, this is not lightweight fiction and Chen fills the pages wonderfully, using prose in a way that deftly moves the story forward. There are many twists and turns which are unexpected; heroes and heroines both meet sad fates and underdogs rise to the top. Maneuvering this host of personalities through their culture and the ups and downs of 1700s royal life is not an easy task, but Chen handles it with aplomb. The result is a novel which I will gladly return to again.

I highly recommend this book for those who are fans of Asian culture and literature. The book is easily worth the price and merits 5 stars.
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