CHILDREN OF THE BITTER RIVER:
Translated by Herbert J. Batt
Children of the Bitter River (Fengjing) narrates a Chinese version of the Horatio Alger myth of a poor boy achieving fame and fortune. In addition to daunting poverty, the hero, Seventh Brother, must overcome the trauma of physical abuse. His story and that of his six brothers traces the history of China from the 1930s to the mid-1980s. His brothers' failures highlight the resilience of Seventh Brother's character and the shrewdness of his choices.
Remarkably, the story is narrated by brother number eight, who died when he was two weeks old and is buried face up outside the window of the family shanty. From his shallow grave, he watches the story unfold.
Fang Fang devotes much of her novel to depicting roles of women in Chinese society: mother, lover, romantic ideal, femme fatale, rape victim, tormentor, business rival. The hero's triumph hinges on his acceptance of a male-female relationship unthinkable in traditional China: marriage to a woman who cannot bear children. His embracing of this exceptional relationship is the key to his remarkable rise to power and status in the new China.
Spellbinding in its narrative and epic in scope, Children of the Bitter River is a compelling and unforgettable tale of survival and triumph under the most harrowing circumstances. Fengjing was translated into French as Une vue splendide.
Fang Fang is the pen name of Wang Fang, who was born in Nanjing in 1955. After finishing secondary school, she was put to work as a physical laborer during the Cultural Revolution, which was when she encountered poor coolies like the father of the Liu family in Children of the Bitter River, her masterpiece. This book appeared in 1987 and is considered the first major work of contemporary Chinese neo-realism, a movement which in the nineties supplanted postmodernism as the main current of contemporary Chinese fiction.
Herbert J. Batt has taught at universities in Beijing and Shanghai and has translated numerous works from Chinese. He is the editor and translator of Tales of Tibet (2001), a collection of postmodern fiction written by contemporary Chinese and Tibetans. He received his Ph.D. in Elizabethan drama from the University of Toronto.
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