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From one of China's most celebrated contemporary novelists comes this riveting tale of a young woman's emotional and sexual awakening. Set in the turbulent decades of the Cultural Revolution and the Tian'anmen Square incident, A Private Life exposes the complex and fantastical inner life of a young woman growing up during a time of intense social and political upheaval. At the age of twenty-six, Ni Niuniu has come to accept pain and loss. She has suffered the death of her mother and a close friend and neighbor, Mrs. Ho. She has long been estranged from her tyrannical father, while her boyfriend-a brilliant and handsome poet named Yin Nan-was forced to flee the country. She has survived a disturbing affair with a former teacher, a mental breakdown that left her in a mental institution for two years, and a stray bullet that tore through the flesh of her left leg. Now living in complete seclusion, Niuniu shuns a world that seems incapable of accepting her and instead spends her days wandering in vivid, dreamlike reveries where her fractured recollections and wild fantasies merge with her inescapable feelings of melancholy and loneliness. Yet this eccentric young woman-caught between the disappearing traditions of the past and a modernizing Beijing, a flood of memories and an unknowable future, her chosen solitude and her irrepressible longing-discovers strength and independence through writing, which transforms her flight from the hypocrisy of urban life into a journey of self-realization and rebirth. First published in 1996 to widespread critical acclaim, Chen Ran's controversial debut novel is a lyrical meditation on memory, sexuality, femininity, and the often arbitrary distinctions between madness and sanity, alienation and belonging, nature and society. As Chen leads the reader deep into the psyche of Ni Niuniu-into her innermost secrets and sexual desires-the borders separating narrator and protagonist, writer and subject dissolve, exposing the shared aspects of human existence that transcend geographical and cultural differences.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780231131964
ISBN-10: 0231131968
Format: Hardback
(137mm x 210mm x 25mm)
Pages: 256
Imprint: Columbia University Press
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Publish Date: 21-Apr-2004
Country of Publication: United States


US Kirkus Review » The inner life of a highly passive heroine, as seen against the turbulence of her country's recent past-in a first English translation from an acclaimed Chinese writer. Ni Niuniu first appears as an adult woman who has secluded herself in a carefully groomed garden, eschewing contact with others and pursuing the purity of her musings and making small personal drawings. As if to explain the enigma of herself, Ni tells us that when she was a small girl in a sturdily "dysfunctional" family, her father was emotionally remote and sometimes violent, while her mother lovingly nourished her daughter's heart and soul. In grade school, Ni suffers the torments of Mr. Ti, who will first molest her and then declare his unfettered love during an exotic dinner. But at this stage Ni's primary sensual interests are in women, their breasts and softness, which are offered to her tenderly by, among others, her girlhood friend Yi Qui and neighbor Ho. The erotic encounter with Mr. Ti introduces her not only to the sexuality of men but to lust as well: an experience she rather enjoys. As she reaches college, she befriends Yin Nan, and, during the years up to and preceding Tian'anmen Square, she's suffers through a handful of traumas. Her mother dies of heart disease; beloved Ho dies in an apartment fire; and her first authentic love, with Yin Nan, is quickly concluded with his escape from China to Germany. While Howard-Gibbon's translation is smooth and readable, there remains, perhaps from the original, an allusive poeticism that lends the prose a kind of indistinct, hazy generality-a haziness that, conjoined here with Ni's already poetic spirit, deprives her character of sharp definition. Still, the persisting reader will find her insights and aphorisms engaging and occasionally provocative. An intriguing exploration of the contemporary consciousness of an alienated, urban Chinese woman for whom current history matters less than the reliable comforts of love, nature, and solitude. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - Ran Chen

Chen Ran is the author of numerous short stories, which are available in the four-volume Collected Works of Chen Ran, and Bits and Pieces, a collection of essays. A Private Life is the first of her works to appear in English. John Howard-Gibbon, a copy editor for China Daily in Beijing, has translated many works, notably Lao She's Teahouse.

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