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The Year of the Rat
by Lucille Bellucci

Category: Fiction / Historical
440 pages; ISBN: 0-595-14895-6

Rating: 6/10  (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: The Happy Guy


“Americans are spoiled, wouldn’t you agree? We think we are deprived of the necessities of life if
we can’t have butter on demand or the popcorn to go with it. For my sin of gluttony I will most
probably come back in the next life as a well-digger in the Arabian desert.” These are the words
of the American Ambassador to China in Lucille Bellucci’s epic-like novel The Year of the Rat.
Good literature always contains profound wisdom, and this tid-bit seems particularly profound
today. It’s hard to concentrate on writing this review with the hoots and honking of striking
government workers who would like a little more job security.

Flash back to Shanghai of 1948 and 1949. Maria Conti and the cast of tragic and desperate
characters surrounding her, struggle with the pain of poverty and under the weight of fear from
the pressing Communist forces steam rolling across China. I keep trying to picture this apartment
building owned by Maria’s father. It sounds like it has three levels, each one with several rooms
sharing common facilities. He has three tenants none of whom pay the rent, and each of whom
has his or her own form of mental or psychological anguish.

To some degree, Maria Conti is autobiographical, bearing an Italian name and Chinese features,
just as Lucille Bellucci does. Shanghai is Bellucci’s home town, so it is not surprising that she can
recount locations and attitudes with precise detail. What is impressive is that she can recount
history and lifestyles of the day with so much detail (perhaps her parents helped just a little).

I have to say that, as well written as it is, this is a long book and there were moments when
Bellucci almost lost me/ It is hard to sustain a story over 440 pages, especially when the story
slows down or stops altogether for a history lesson.

If China and Chinese history fascinates you, and you read faster than this reviewer, you might
want to pick up a copy of Year of the Rat

The reviewer is David Leonhardt, author of Climb your Stairway to Heaven: the 9 habits of
maximum happiness.


Buy The Year of the Rat at


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