a review in Publishers Weekly

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Lotus

Lijia Zhang. Holt, $27 (368p) ISBN 978-1-62779-566-1

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After the memoir Socialism Is Great!, Zhang returns to the landscape of a rapidly changing China in this debut novel, which explores the daily life and inner world of Lotus, a young prostitute living in the city of Shenzhen, who supports her family in their rural village. Along with three other ji (prostitutes) of varying ages, Lotus lives at the massage parlor where she works and soon befriends Bing, a kind, cultured photographer who is staying nearby while he compiles a series of portraits of ji, including some of Lotus. After Bing accompanies Lotus to visit her family, their friendship deepens and their attraction to each other grows. But once Bing’s photographs of Lotus are published in a national magazine and his engagement to her is exposed, their involvement threatens his standing in the Communist party. Although written in English, the book retains a distinctly Chinese vernacular, which, on one hand, helps to build the world of the novel, and yet, on the other, often reads like an awkward translation. Early on, during a night out with several wealthy clients, “the other men had taken their girls to different vehicles…. Lotus felt out of place in the luxurious setting.” An encounter between Lotus and Bing is described as follows: “Inside their snow-white mosquito net, their sweat-lubricated bodies entwined together like eels.” Though Lotus’s story is compelling, the stilted prose often proves distracting. (Jan.)

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