This novel centres around the insular and narcissistic world of Nikki or Coco, as she wants to be known, for Coco Chanel. Coco is a brashly unconventional young Chinese woman who wants to be a writer. The city of Shanghai is presented almost as if it were a major character. It is every bit as full of contrasts as the assembly of human characters – East and West, full of local charm and yet greedily receptive to global influences. She gives up her promising career as a journalist to pursue her dream of being a writer.
To the mortification of her parents, she moves in with an aimless, sensitive young man, Tian Tian. Tian Tian is devoted to her, and in him, she finds her lovey buddy. However, he is unable to provide her with what she wants physically. He becomes addicted to morphine and she saves him by committing him into a rehabilitation center. She meets and has an affair with Mark, a married German man working in Shanghai, who is the opposite of Tian Tian. He provides her with the physical satisfaction she needs but is mentally crude. When Tian Tian finds out, he relapses into self-destruction.
This report prepared by linn
Pocket, Sep 2001, 24.00, 263 pp.
Friends of twenty-five year old Shanghai waitress Nikki call her “Coco” after her second greatest idol Coco Chanel. Calling her Henry for her number one hero Henry Miller seems a bit out of place for the precocious young lady. Nikki falls in love with artist Tian Tian and quickly moves in with the disconsolate man over the objections of her old fashion parents.
However, Tian Tian dives deeper into drugs leaving him more despondent, but it is his impotency that drives Nikki crazy. Refusing to allow love to interfere with sex, Nikki begins having an affair with married German businessman Mark. Quickly, Nikki finds herself straddling two worlds. One centers on values and love; the other focuses on lust and deception.
The Chinese government burned this romance novel, which lead to a western feeding frenzy. However, the reactions remind this reviewer of the movie I Am Curious Yellow whose message was buried under an avalanche of publicity over a sex scene that led to big sales for a picture this reviewer found boring. SHANGHAI BABY had possibilities between the culture clashes within China and with the western intrusion including the Net, but the characters never come across as deep enough to pull off the debate over the varying values. Still, readers get a glimpse of a different kind of China that makes Wei Hui's tale worth reading for those who enjoy a clash of cultures that a reader will never drown in its plot.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner