Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Loyal Character Dancer

Just finished Qiu Xiaolong's second Inspector Chen novel, A Loyal Character Dancer.  It is a good mystery novel, and gives what I assume are reasonable pictures of life in China, though the author has been in the states since the late 80s.  Much of the dialog is pretty stilted. But one can basically read his novels for the food.  Here's a typical passage.

"What about a dumpling dinner?"
"A good idea.  It's the season for spring bamboo shoots.  We will have dumplings with three fresh stuffings:  fresh bamboo shoots, fresh meat, and fresh shrimp.  I'll fry some dumplings, steam some, and serve the rest in an old duck soup with black tree ears...."
..."I'll go to the market to buy a basket of really fresh bamboo shoots."
"Choose the tender ones.  Not thicker than two fingers.  We'd better mince the meat ourselves:  ground pork you can buy is not fresh."
Keeps you hungry. All this talk of food is interspersed with a little romance, a few corpses, some cultural history, and copious quotes from Chinese proverbs and poetry and the like.  The characters live as if suspended somewhere between their stomachs and an all-enveloping literary tradition, somewhat menaced by gangsters but not enough to distract them from the niceties of serving tea. I'll read more.

ps. the more I think of it, the more I think Xiaolong's focus on food is a sign of homesickness.  He apparently lives in  St. Louis and writes in English.  I'm sure he pines for the foods he describes.

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