Lotus: Updating the great Chinese socialist realist novel

With the Communists fighting both the Japanese invaders and the Guomindang reactionaries in a triangular war, the 1930s-40s was a tumultuous and extraordinarily violent period in the country’s history, resulting in the deaths of tens of millions of Chinese, mostly civilians. Such an earth-shaking era was story-worthy to say the least, and revolutionary authors applied their firsthand experience of the war years to penning firey, action-packed pageturners in the tradition of socialist realism. Among the best-known of these novels were Liang Bin’s Keep the Red Flag Flying (红旗谱), Qu Bo’s Tracks in the Snowy Forest (林海雪原), Yang Mo’s The Song of Youth (青春之歌), Liu Qing’s Builders of a New Life (创业史), and Luo Guangbin and Yang Yiyan’s Red Crag (红岩), all written in the late 1950s-early 1960s (also published in English by the Foreign Languages Press in Beijing). This flowering of communist fiction dried up during the Cultural Revolution. To Jiang Qing, the wife of Mao, nothing was quite revolutionary enough to pass muster and she banned virtually everything, including the aforementioned novels.

The decades since have presented a quandary for Chinese writers. With socialism firmly established and war and devastation a thing of the past, in the absence of some new vital struggle or national emergency, it must have been, and continues to be, a tall order to revisit the authentic socialist realist novel. That is until the contemporary female writer Zhang Lijia saw what was staring at us all along and has now fashioned into an impressive new work of socialist realism, the novel Lotus (Henry Holt & Co., 2017). What momentous cause was this up-and-coming author the first to bring into urgent focus? None other than the great scourge of prostitution and sex work.

Facebook, rococo vulvas, and the pornographic imagination

A rococo vulva, which apparently violates Facebook’s ads policy.

Authors who publish independently on the subject of relationships and sexuality are soon acquainted with the industry’s strictures. They boil down to two: 1) If the content of your book contains graphic descriptions of sex, it will likely get involuntarily pegged as “erotica,” even if you thought you were writing something literary. 2) If the cover of your book is too sexually suggestive, it’s also likely to get pegged as erotica or simply turned down for distribution altogether. And then there’s Facebook, which is not less but far more comprehensive in its family-friendly guidelines and requires a considerably steeper learning curve. But first a few observations on book content before moving on to our primary concern, book covers, and finally Facebook.

The Kitchens of Canton, a novel. Ch. 13: New Gary, IN

He pointed at a food tray behind the cafeteria counter.

“Oh, you again. Hominy grits?” she asked.

“A lot.”

“Can’t give you a lot. Everybody get the same portion.”

“I didn’t ask for a lot. I said there’s a lot.”

“What you mean?”

“You asked me hominy grits, and I’m telling you how many grits there are in that pan.”

“Your humor so bad it’s good. Anyway you can’t eat shit. You can’t fool me on that score. I can serve you a coffee, though. I want to watch that trick of yours again. You seen him do that coffee trick, Akeeshea?”

“I’m watching.”

Deshondra served Carrot a cup of coffee.

“Yep, you folks just lovin’ the sugar,” said Carrot as he opened the dispenser into the coffee and held up his other hand to high-five her. Without taking his eyes off her, he stopped the flow of sugar just in time before the coffee overflowed. “Tee-hee.”

The ladies stared poker-faced.

“Don’t know how the hell you do that,” said Deshondra. “But you wasted us a half dispenser of sugar again.”

“Poor man’s cocaine.”

“What’s up?”

New Book Release: American Rococo

What do seashells, obesity, graffiti, and the American ghetto have in common? Nude hot springs and the Japanese theater? Atheists and family-values conservatives? Why do atheists go on religious pilgrimages? How have schools infantilized our understanding of Shakespeare, and the textbook industry conspired to turn our language’s history into agitprop? What is the single most dangerous sexual idea that even the liberated can’t handle?

Ranging across centuries and continents, Isham Cook’s far-flung essays, whether discoursing on the most radical or homespun of topics, are guided by the notion of the “edge.” The edge represents the limits of conventional understanding, the zone beyond stereotypes and groupthink; it is​ where received ideas are recast in fresh and striking ways.

“Food for thought, elegantly prepared.” — Kirkus Reviews

“Reminds one of an etching that has been precisely scribed to create a sharp effect.” — Michael Collins, author of St George and the Dragons: The Making of English Identity

“Imagine a conversation over thirteen evenings with a perceptive and erudite companion.” — James Lande, author of Yang Shen: The God from the West

The Kitchens of Canton, a novel. Ch. 12: Gwongzau

At my 180 kilograms it takes an effort to lift myself out of the bath, but I’ll be damned if I’m hooked up to the crane. Ingmon and the boss grab me under the arms and that does the job. Standing up, I can no longer see my penis under my belly even when erect. I can’t get hard anyway, with no place for it to expand. Previously, to check if my erectile function was normal, they would lift the bag of blubber high enough to access the penis and squeeze out a few spurts on the digital spoon. But now that it is getting all too awkward to manipulate they have a device for the purpose — a shelf to raise the blubber bag and a vibrating hose to slurp up the penis. Thankfully, they continue to handle me manually on the bed. They’ve found from experience that the human touch is simply more efficient.

The Kitchens of Canton, a novel. Ch. 11: Roma

广州厨房印章-02Bpurple

“I like the tunic.”

“I don’t ask if you like tunic. I don’t like. Take it off!”

“No.”

Zhang tried to rip the tunic off Malmquist, but he broke free and ran out of the house.

“Wo qu zhui ta,” Giulia told her as she ran off after him.

He hid himself at a table in the back of the little restaurant down the street from the old eunuch’s domus.

“Cosa avrai?” asked a waitress.

He gestured apologetically.

“Vuoi una ragazza?” she said, pointing upstairs and jiggling her breasts. “Belle tette.”

Giulia found him. “Ho pensato che avrei trovato al ristorante.”

He stared silently in the distance. That earned him a hard slap on the face.

“Idiota! Perché sei scappato? Lei ti punirà. Può fare qualsiasi cosa per voi, tra cui ucciderti!”

He stood up. “Why did you do that!”

She dropped her head in her hand. He took her cheeks in his. “Giulia, I need this tunic. Without it I’m lost. You see the words on it? I can talk to people back home who can help me.”