SEVEN CIRCUMSTANCES

Book Reviews & Essays on Literature

Red Lotus, by Pai Kit Fai

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Red Lotus, by Pai Kit Fai (Sphere, 2009)

There are three words for this novel: Over. The. Top.

Fai (the pseudonym of Geoffrey Morgan Pike) is said to be a scholar of holistic medicine and a martial arts master, so he should something about Chinese culture. He probably does, but that did not translate into good writing in this case.

The novel deals with three generations of Chinese women and every conceivable facet of Chinese life from 1906 to 1941. So, while it should be categorized as modern fiction, both the style and the subjects make it seem old-fashioned, so I’m classifying it as historical fiction.

Unfortunately, Fai chose to feature the details that Westerners would find most juicy, sensational and dramatic, and packed them all into an over-rich melodrama – from foot binding and concubines, to noble sea captains rescuing tender Chinese maidens from fates worse than death.

By the end I had had an overdose of long philosophical, poetic ramblings and excessive romanticism. And frankly, I found it to be the most terrible tosh. Perhaps it was a consequence of his age, he was 87 when the book came out, so everything about the novel is dated.

If you want to read novels about China, or novels by good Chinese authors, look elsewhere. It’s a good job that the comment on the front cover only says “in the tradition of Memoirs of a Geisha”, because it’s nowhere near as good as Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha. I really had to wonder why the publishers even bothered with this one.

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