Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Shanghai Baby by Wei Hui

Paperback: 311 pages
Genre: Fiction (Tranlated from the Chinese)
Publisher: Robinson 2002
Source: From a fellow Bookcrosser as a Birthday Gift.
First Sentences: 'My name is Nikki but my friends call me Coco after Coco Chanel, a French lady who lived to be ninety.
Review Quote: '
According to the Chinese authorities, Wei Hui  is "decadent, debauched  and a slave of 
foreign culture" In fact, Wei Hui is intelligent and a passionate spokesperson  for the women of modern China.' Marie Claire 
My Opinion: 
 I found it interesting to compare with the last novel I read.

This novel seemed an appropriate choice to follow on after my last read My Favourite Wife as it is also set in Shanghai and has a surprisingly similar theme, except this time seen from a Chinese girl's point of view.  Causing something of a stir when it was first published in China it has been translated into English by Bruce Humes, this autobiographical novel  does feel contrived, but this may be just caused by the difficulties in translating. If I had not already a little understanding of the lifestyle of a concubine I am sure I would have found this novel even harder to read than I did. I found it very interesting to compare with the last novel  as the same sort of situations arose, the background of Shanghai was familiar and the descriptions of the city bring it alive. A female perspective about a society that is still undergoing great changes. Coco our heroine was not a character I took to as she came across as extremely egotistical. 

The storyline is very simple, the protagonist Coco as she calls herself, has despite not completing her education dreams of becoming a writer. She lives with her boyfriend Tian, Tain, a strange young man, unemployed, a drug addict and unable to consummate their sexual relationship. It is no surprise really then that not satisfied with the platonic love he provides that she has a fervent affair with Mark, a married German. Why an earth did her boyfriend put up with this behaviour when it seemed so obvious to us the reader that she was still with him thanks to a personal allowance he had, a relationship of convenience. The love triangle created is hopeless with Tian Tian sinking fast from his drug abuse and Mark has a wife and daughter to consider. This young Asian woman seems to want both love and sex but sadly not necessarily from the same man. 

In conclusion as literature this did not entertain me at all and I do not think my age was a factor, however from the cultural aspect I found it interesting enough. I think you can guess from my comments that I preferred My Favourite Wife and of the two that is the one I would direct you to if you do not want to read both.

Author Profile

Wei Hui  as she is known in the west,( Zhou Weihui) was born on the 1st of January 1973 in Ningbo, China.   She studied Chinese Language and Literature at Fudan University in Shanghai, after a year of military training. Her first short story was published at the age of 21. Her first novel Shanghai Baby, was a local bestseller in Shanghai. Soon after its publication, the novel was banned by the Chinese government, because of the novel's explicit sexual scenes and bold portrait of China's new generation. The publishing house that published the novel was temporarily closed for 3 months. Shanghai Baby was published overseas where it became an international bestseller. Shanghai Baby has been translated into 34 different languages and has sold over six million copies in 45 countries. Shanghai Baby has sold more copies than any other work of Chinese contemporary literature.
Her novel Shanghai Baby  was banned in the People's Republic of China as "decadent" and Her next novel  Marrying Buddha was censored and published in China under a modified title.
Wei Hui now works as a writer and divides her time between Shanghai and New York, where she has been regarded by international media as a spokeswoman of the new generation of Chinese young women. She has presented her work in a large number of Western publications, including The New York Times, The New Yorker, Time Magazine, CNN, USA Today, the BBC, The Times, The Sunday Times, the Economist, Stern, Welt am Sonntag, Asahi Shimbun, NHK, Yomiuri Shimbun, Le Monde, Le Figaro and more.

The biographical information and photo used in this post are with thanks to the following websites, where you can also find more information about the author and her writing.

Goodreads Author Profile    Wei Hui - Wikipedia


  1. I like the sound of this one Lindy but don't have a big background knowledge on it. Thanks for reviewing.

    Lainy http://www.alwaysreading.net

  2. Lainy@ Are you on Bookmooch as I am considering adding this title to my books there?

  3. The cultural aspects do sound really interesting ;)

  4. Elisa@ They are which made it such a good follow up to The Favourite wife.

  5. Hi Linda,

    What a good idea to read these two books back to back, so that you can assess an almost identical situation from both sides of the fence.

    I found it interesting that you found such a difference in your opinions, when reading from the male and female side, of the same scenario.

    Was it just the style of the author's writing do you think?

    Sorry that this book failed to meet your expectations, after your enjoyment of the Tony Parsons book.


  6. Yvonne@ I thought it was a good idea and in this one the cultural aspect was interesting. It was the storyline that was lacking and I do not think it was in translation.

  7. This doesn't sound like one that I would pick up anyway, but I appreciated your review.

  8. Alyce@ Thankyou with so many books available I also find it is often helpful to read a review that reassures me title is not one I would enjoy.


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