Saturday, March 7, 2009

When Red is Black

I've been reading Qiu Xialong's When Red is Black in fits and spurts. It takes place in modern day Shanghai and as a mystery, I'd say it's...okay. The best thing about it is how it gives you a sense of the bizarre world that is modern day China. Some people are getting rich. A lot of people are just staying the way they are. A still overwhelming bureaucratic state hovers but likewise enables unfettered free enterprise in select pockets.

A writer with deep ties to the atrocities of the Cultural Revolution has been murdered. Towards this writer's later years, she had turned 'dissident' by government's standards. An enormously likable detective Yu must solve the case. Yu embodies the dilemma many Chinese must face in their shape-shifting economy. He plays by Party rules yet watches with bewilderment and resignation friends get rich.

This book gives you a fantastic glimpse, not just into the big picture changes China is experiencing but also into the lives of everyday folk. There are fantastic descriptions of the street vendors, the local restaurants and the shikumen - the ancient traditional housing structure turned communal residence.

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