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Showing 1-10 of 12 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 21 reviews
on November 27, 2015
Freudenberger beautifully develops the themes of collectivity versus individuality, and authenticity versus artifice through the odyssey of her protagonist, a Chinese artist, from Beijing's East Village to Los Angeles, and back again to China. Freudenberger raises questions (To be art, must it be original?) to which she provides no simple answers, but much room for thought. The book builds slowly, but picks up as we see Yuan Zhao more and more solidly placing himself in harm's way. Along the way, we meet many (not especially likable) characters whom we get to know only dimly, an aspect that I see as one of the book's limitations. However, we do get to know our protagonist via his unflinching self-honesty, set in bold relief by those around him striving for oblivion.
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on December 20, 2008
The first time I visited Beijing's Dashanzi art district several years ago, I wandered into a crowded gallery only to find a guy lying in the middle of the floor, wrapped in a flag, while some people were dripping candle wax onto him and others were shooting video. A few steps outside and I was introduced to another artist whose specialty was painting himself to blend into various walls. Nell Freudenberger's first novel evokes well the performance art milieu of Beijing, at least from the perspective of an outsider looking in. From having lived ten years or so in West Los Angeles, I'd also say she manages a good satire of life there (though that's a much easier target).

While some reviewers prefer either the Chinese narrative or the L.A. one, I thought they complemented each other well. Even if the American characters aren't always as engaging as the title character, the author has a great ear and warm imagination for their dialogue. E.g., a spoiled private high school student who's spent time in France, impressed that her classmate's brother went to a party at his Latina girlfriend's home in the Echo Park neighborhood: "'Wow,' said Emily, 'ça c'est vraiment le barrio.'" And the characters who need to be likable, are.

The story sometimes has a typical first-novelish, self-reflective preoccupation with the theme of 'what is art?,' but it manages to be interesting on that topic. NF's treatments of identity and "dissidence" are also nicely structured, with many interesting parallels and contrasts among the characters; better yet, she doesn't hit you over the head with these by having her characters call attention to them. This is a very satisfying novel -- I'm definitely looking forward to reading the next one from this author.
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on August 30, 2015
I mostly liked this book. In the beginning it seemed to be setting up a French farce but the potential was not materialized. I felt it deceptive to give some characters - the on line college professor -- a first person voice but not continue her part in the story. It had a little too much background about the true dissident without giving insight into his part in the trip to America and his decisions about his future. The potential was not realized IMHO. I did like the feel of the narrative. Just needed more.
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on November 20, 2016
Although I rarely review books, I am compelled to make an exception here. This book is magnificent! Humorous, touching, beautifully written. I especially savored the deft, understated, and riotously funny social commentary. Purchased this Kindle book on a whim, and it is one of the best I have read. Thank you Nell Freudenberger for creating such a literary treat!
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on October 4, 2014
Freudenberger's stories fascinate me and although set for the most part in the country I know, they reveal aspects of a foreign culture. This book gives glimpses of Chinese culture plus is enmeshed in the world of art. Loved the layers and parallels as she tells her story particularly the psychiatrist's study of genealogy and the artist's copying of the ancient scroll whose story symbolizes this whole novel's story.
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on January 28, 2008
This novel is a first person account by a Chinese artist of his year spent in LA on a culteral grant.
There is also his retelling of his rise in the Chinese underground art scene. I found this depiction fascinating, with several good characters.
In LA, there is the main character's interaction with the American family he is living with. There is some of the expected culture clash here. There is also the interactions within this slighlty dysfunctional family.
Finally, there is even a bit of a plot twist at the end. If you are intereseted in a good story about the Chinese avant garde art scene and about a family dissolving, then check out The Dissident.
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on September 16, 2017
I love this author. Have now read all 3 of her books. I hope she writes more.
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on October 11, 2015
This story, narrated from several viewpoints, spins a story of art and deception. The story is easy to follow, yet the theme twists and turns into unexpected avenues.
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on October 31, 2015
Interestign tale about a period on CHinese art world that we know little about. Took a while for me to figure our the end and I enjoyed that.
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on March 3, 2016
Enjoyed the cast of characters and the twists and turns. Slow start, but loved the ending.
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