Book Review: Years of Red Dust by Qiu Xiaolong

Years of Red Dust
Qiu Xiaolong
St. Martin’s Press, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-62809-3

The author of the Inspector Chen series, which usually portrayed incisive pictures of Chinese culture and politics, turns his attention to another form of literature:  these short stories which mirror the changes in the country from 1949 and the beginning of the Communist takeover from the defeated Nationalists to the present day.

Each chapter begins with a brief recap of that year’s events as a prelude to a tale of one or more persons living in Red Dust Lane. Each is set in a single year, and the stories reflect the evolution of the country through the various upheavals during the reign of Mao through the development of the quasi-market economy now in existence.

Written with the customary poignancy and sensitivity that Qui Xiaolong has exhibited in previous novels, filled with quotations from classic Chinese literature and history, Confucius sayings and ancient proverbs, the tales are not only engaging but are redolent of the sights and sounds of Shanghai.  They bring home to the reader how the past changing attitudes and politics affected people more cogently than a dry history text recounting the Red Guards or sending “educated” teenagers to the countryside to live as peasants.

The book is well worth reading and is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2010.