Book Review: The Ninth Widow (Mandarin version)

Synopsis by Geling Yan (the author) at

(my even more poorly written book review in Chinese, ha) :)

One of my goals after my extended trip to the states in the Fall was to get back into reading… one of the ways I started this was to get a Bookworm membership (at a Greening the Beige event, too, so I got to feel very self-righteous about supporting arts efforts with my reading habit, yay!). However, after getting back onto my CRI show “Laowai Kandian”, I realized that I needed to work on my Chinese language/reading skills as well. So, I picked up a book that I had halfheartedly started reading during a film project this Summer, Yan Geling’s “The Ninth Widow” and delved right in…

Once I got past the first 50 pages, and got used to her style of writing, the story became incredibly enjoyable for me. Wang Putao (Grape) is the main character, a young Chinese peasant girl who is bought/married (same thing? ha) into a landlord family in Henan province. The machinations of China’s modern history envelope the land, and yet Putao manages to remain a genuine spirit, pure of heart, dewy eyed, with an outspoken morality and even a sense of humor. Of course, the fact that she is such an atypical (in fact, impossible?) character is half the charm of the book. Most other novels about China during that time period focus on either political propaganda or how much it sucks to be a peasant (something which is pretty much true regardless of the government/time period). This one instead focuses on the social changes happening around this lovely little wayward optimist (who is incidentally thought of by the other villagers as somewhat ‘touched’ in the head).

While this book suffers from an illness that plagues most modern Chinese fiction (the lack of a clear start/end) its a really good read, entertaining and thoughtful. I’m curious what the English translation would look like, since there’s so many colorful colloquial phrases that would be difficult to translate (and thus the puns she includes would be totally lost to the English reader). Either way, if you’ve got the stamina and an electric dictionary handy, I definitely recommend giving “The Ninth Widow” a try, its a pleasant shift from the typically depressing nature of literature about that era.

~ Elyse 柳素英

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