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Shanghai Baby
by Wei Hui

Category: Fiction / General
263 pages; ISBN: 0743421566

Rating: 7/10  (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Harriet Klausner


Friends of twenty-five year old Shanghai waitress Nikki call her “Coco” after her second greatest idol Coco Chanel. Calling her Henry for her number one hero Henry Miller seems a bit out of place for the precocious young lady. Nikki falls in love with artist Tian Tian and quickly moves in with the disconsolate man over the objections of her old fashion parents.

However, Tian Tian dives deeper into drugs leaving him more despondent, but it is his impotency that drives Nikki crazy. Refusing to allow love to interfere with sex, Nikki begins having an affair with married German businessman Mark. Quickly, Nikki finds herself straddling two worlds. One centers on values and love; the other focuses on lust and deception.

The Chinese government burned this novel, which lead to a western feeding frenzy. However, the reactions remind this reviewer of the movie I Am Curious Yellow whose message was buried under an avalanche of publicity over a sex scene that led to big sales for a picture this reviewer found boring. SHANGHAI BABY had possibilities between the culture clashes within China and with the western intrusion including the Net, but the characters never come across as deep enough to pull off the debate over the varying values. Still, readers get a glimpse of a different kind of China that makes Wei Hui’s tale worth reading for those who enjoy a clash of cultures that a reader will never drown in its plot.

Harriet Klausner


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