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Seeing Calvin Coolidge in a Dream : A Novel Paperback – Bargain Price, July 15, 1997
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John Derbyshire took an interesting risk with this first-person novel written in the voice of Chai, a former Red Guard from Northeastern China who fled his strife-ridden country by swimming to Hong Kong, eventually making his way to the United States. Happily married and living in Long Island, he has developed an obsession for Calvin Coolidge, whose low-key, laissez-faire approach to government makes him sound to Chai like the ideal Confucian leader. Through Chai, Derbyshire offers insights on the difference between China, where citizens are crushed by the weight of a long and enduring history, and the United States, where a relative lack of history gives its citizens the opportunity to endlessly remake themselves. All this is wrapped in a plot that has Chai flirting dangerously with thoughts of reviving a long-lost relationship with a woman from his past. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Initially a gritty portrait of a shirt-on-his-back mainland Chinese emigre, Derbyshire's first novel segues into a credulity-stretching but enjoyable flight of fancy. We first meet narrator Chai and his wife, Ding, at home on Long Island, during an evening of Scrabble and moon cakes. A former Red Guard whose disaffection with Maoism was accelerated by witnessing politically excused rapes and killings during the Cultural Revolution, Chai has come to this bourgeois life through a circuitous route. Escaping China by swimming to Hong Kong, he rose from messenger to banking executive, attaining a hard-to-swallow mastery of Western culture in part by memorizing David Copperfield. All along, he has worshipped a sequence of heroes, from Lu Xun, an iconoclastic Chinese writer of the 1920s and '30s, to Calvin Coolidge, and he still thinks about Selina, a young Hong Kong receptionist who broke his heart 20 years ago. Now Chai learns that Selina is living in Cambridge, Mass., and he decides to rekindle their relationship. Ding's ploy to avert this tryst is a delightful, subtle bit of silliness and includes a hilarious scene in which Chai thinks he is being chided by Coolidge's ghost. Derbyshire clearly knows Eastern and Western mores, and those willing to overlook the novel's plot dissonance should enjoy this debut both as a lighthearted romantic romp and as a knowing literary study of the tensions between self-discipline and determinism.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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