The Asian Reporter July 31-August 6, 2001

Books: Political parties

By Polo

Chinese writer Annie Wang recently read from her first English language novel Lili, at Portland’s Annie Bloom’s Books. Ms. Wang is a bright bright young woman, as is her story’s main character Lili. Both are obviously and self-consciously so. 

"I am an iconoclast myself," Ms. Wang stated in Pantheon’s advance publicity materials. That itchy awareness makes an interesting third story.

Ms. Wang’s novel’s full title is Lili, A Novel of Tiananmen. Publisher Pantheon Books sent the author, book under arm around the country, to commemorate and make commercial momentum out of the 21st anniversary of the brutal reclamation of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square by loyal battalions of China’s People’s Liberation Army.

Lili’s big-city academic parents, the story goes, are declared "counter-revolutionary" during China’s dark decade (1966-76) and sentenced to the harsh Chinese countryside for political re-education. As a sullen and rebellious 12 year-old, Lili suffers sexual molestation by a foul-smelling village political officer. She runs away from her parent’s rural commune, falls in with a wolf pack of young Beijing gangsters, and falls in love with the group’s alpha male.

Tumultuous things happen — to Lili, to the author, to the Great Sleeping Dragon — Chairman Mao passing, Premier Zhou and President clinking glasses, Deng Xiaoping’s shocking economic reforms, dizzying glimpses of political possibilities. And of course, Lili falls in love. With Roy Goldstein. An American journalist.

With Roy’s help, Annie explores, then understands more fully, her body and her self, her culture and her country, her very universe — the "whole nine yards," as they say. All that, during what many energetic Western commentators describe as China’s nascent spring — the Middle Kingdom’s fleeting flirtation with Lady Liberty, southern California accents, 24/7 CNN coverage, the works.

Ms. Wang brings her obvious intelligence and youthful enthusiasm into a fascinating chapter of Chinese history. More elucidation is always necessary. By doing so, by relating an adolescent slumber party scene (so like campus political demonstrations we enjoyed during our youth), Ms. Wang colors a fading photo each of us keeps tucked in top desk drawers about those delirious days back in June 1989, just before the indignant grandpas deep inside the Forbidden City finally smacked their rowdy progeny. Bam.



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