The Red Chamber

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The Red Chamber

by Pauline A Chen

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group | August 11, 2014 | Hardcover

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In this lyrical reimagining of the Chinese classic Dream of the Red Chamber, set against the breathtaking backdrop of eighteenth-century Beijing, the lives of three unforgettable women collide in the inner chambers of the Jia mansion. When orphaned Daiyu leaves her home in the provinces to take shelter with her cousins in the Capital, she is drawn into a world of opulent splendor, presided over by the ruthless, scheming Xifeng and the prim, repressed Baochai. As she learns the secrets behind their glittering façades, she finds herself entangled in a web of intrigue and hidden passions, reaching from the petty gossip of the servants’ quarters all the way to the Imperial Palace. When a political coup overthrows the emperor and plunges the once-mighty family into grinding poverty, each woman must choose between love and duty, friendship and survival.

In this dazzling debut, Pauline A. Chen draws the reader deep into the secret, exquisite world of the women’s quarters of an aristocratic household, where the burnish of wealth and refinement mask a harsher truth: marriageable girls are traded like chattel for the family’s advancement, and to choose to love is to risk everything. 

Format: Hardcover

Dimensions: 400 pages, 9.49 × 6.6 × 1.41 in

Published: August 11, 2014

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0307701573

ISBN - 13: 9780307701572

Found in: Fiction and Literature

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– More About This Product –

The Red Chamber

by Pauline A Chen

Format: Hardcover

Dimensions: 400 pages, 9.49 × 6.6 × 1.41 in

Published: August 11, 2014

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0307701573

ISBN - 13: 9780307701572

About the Book

An epic reimagining of the Chinese classic "Dream of the Red Chamber," set against the breathtaking backdrop of 18th-century Beijing, where the lives of three unforgettable women collide in the Inner Chambers of a ducal mansion.

Read from the Book

1 Lin Daiyu crushes apricot kernels and black sesame seeds in a marble mortar. She scrapes the medicine into a bowl of stewed bird’s nests and stirs it with a porcelain spoon. She brings the bowl to her mother’s bed near the window. Propped against her bolsters, Daiyu’s mother sips the dose, grimacing a little. Daiyu watches every mouthful, as if by her vigilance she can somehow will the medicine to work. Mrs. Lin lies back, exhausted even by the act of drinking. “Daiyu,” she says, her voice a reedy thread. “Yes?” “I want to show you something.” “What is it?” “Go and look in the bottom of my old trunk.” Daiyu kneels before the wardrobe and opens the battered chest where the family keeps their winter clothes. She rummages beneath the piles of bulky padded trousers and quilted jackets, and finds a flat bundle in a crimson brocade wrapping cloth. “Yes, that’s it. Bring it here.” Her mother’s thin fingers struggle with the knot, and Daiyu leans over to help. Inside are two flat boxes. Mrs. Lin opens one to reveal a necklace of reddish gold in the form of a coiling dragon. In the other is a tiara of flying golden phoenixes, a string of pearls arching from each beak. “These are from your dowry, aren’t they?” Mrs. Lin does not seem to hear the question. “Help me up,” she says. Daiyu climbs onto the bed and adjusts the pillows so that her mother is sitti
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From the Publisher

In this lyrical reimagining of the Chinese classic Dream of the Red Chamber, set against the breathtaking backdrop of eighteenth-century Beijing, the lives of three unforgettable women collide in the inner chambers of the Jia mansion. When orphaned Daiyu leaves her home in the provinces to take shelter with her cousins in the Capital, she is drawn into a world of opulent splendor, presided over by the ruthless, scheming Xifeng and the prim, repressed Baochai. As she learns the secrets behind their glittering façades, she finds herself entangled in a web of intrigue and hidden passions, reaching from the petty gossip of the servants’ quarters all the way to the Imperial Palace. When a political coup overthrows the emperor and plunges the once-mighty family into grinding poverty, each woman must choose between love and duty, friendship and survival.

In this dazzling debut, Pauline A. Chen draws the reader deep into the secret, exquisite world of the women’s quarters of an aristocratic household, where the burnish of wealth and refinement mask a harsher truth: marriageable girls are traded like chattel for the family’s advancement, and to choose to love is to risk everything. 

About the Author

Pauline A. Chen earned her B.A. in classics from Harvard, her J.D. from Yale Law School, and her Ph.D. in East Asian studies from Princeton. She has taught Chinese language, literature, and film at the University of Minnesota and Oberlin College. She is also the author of a novel for young readers, Peiling and the Chicken-Fried Christmas, and lives in Ohio with her two children.  

Editorial Reviews

“Pauline Chen’s boldly imagined retelling of The Dream of the Red Chamber is a literary wonder. An epic yet intimate account of palace intrigue and political tumult that dazzles on every page. Heartbreaking, exhilarating, and impossible to put down.” —Julie Otsuka, author of The Buddha in the Attic   “Rarely does a cast of beloved literary figures from another culture and time come alive on the pages of a modern writer’s work. Pauline Chen has reimagined the characters from my very favorite novel to make a compelling new version of China’s great literary masterpiece. I highly recommend The Red Chamber . It will transport you into an altogether new world.”  —Arthur Golden, author of Memoirs of a Geisha   “In Pauline Chen’s transporting interpretation of the Chinese classic The Dream of the Red Chamber , the byzantine machinations and behind-the-screen politics of the Jia family are so skillfully rendered as to bring to mind a delicate ink painting suddenly and vividly brought to life. A remarkable achievement.” —Janice Lee, author of The Piano Teacher   “ The Red Chamber draws a memorable portrait of the Qing dynasty era, revealing a dangerous world of intrigue and secrets within the entrapping web of societal mores and manners. Written in a precise, cinematic style, Chen''s novel brings this fascinating historical period to vivid life.”   —Da
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Bookclub Guide

US

1. In the introduction to Dream of the Red Chamber, the eighteenth-century novel on which The Red Chamber is based, the author states that an important impetus for writing the novel was nostalgia for his pampered and carefree youth. How is the theme of nostalgia also central to The Red Chamber?

2. At the beginning of the novel, do you feel that Baochai is presented sympathetically, while Xifeng is not? Do you feel that these two characters “switch places” toward the end of the book, with Xifeng becoming more likeable and Baochai less so? If so, what is the process by which Xifeng becomes more sympathetic? Does Baochai retain your sympathy at the end of the novel?

3. Were you shocked or dismayed by Baoyu’s decision to run away from his family to become a monk at the end of the book? Do you feel that he was abdicating his responsibilities to his wife and family, or did you sympathize with his decision? Do you feel that The Red Chamber can be read as a coming-of-age story, with characters like Baoyu and Daiyu achieving a higher level of understanding or maturity by the end?

4. What are the sources of tension between Baoyu and his father, Jia Zheng? Can you imagine a father and son today experiencing similar types of tension? Do you consider Jia Zheng’s beating of Baoyu to be abusive, or does it seem understandable given the cultural context?

5. There is some controversy among scholars as to whether the female characters in Dream of the Red Chamber have bound feet. The Red Chamber follows David Hawkes, the eminent translator of Dream of the Red Chamber, in presenting the Jia women as adhering to the traditions of their Manchu conquerors and not binding their feet, as most Chinese women of the period did. (The Manchus were known for their athleticism and horsemanship, while Chinese culture was considered to be more highly refined.) Would the story have unfolded differently if the characters did have bound feet? Would it have affected your perception of the characters?

6. An alternate title for the original novel upon which The Red Chamber is based is The Story of the Stone. What is the significance of Baoyu’s jade to the story? If the jade is the family’s luck, how is Baoyu an asset to his family?

7. Does Lady Jia’s favoritism toward Baoyu affect how the other members of his family—the women, his father and brothers—see him? How does being her favorite shape his life? In what ways it is advantageous, and in what ways does it create unique obstacles and difficulties?

8. What type of male ideal does Baoyu represent? What is desirable or attractive about him? How is he different from a modern Western ideal of male beauty?

9. Is Baoyu a romantic hero or an antihero? How and why?

10. Discuss the relationship between Daiyu and Baoyu. Is this a relic of youth or true love that might have had great longevity and sustained them both had circumstances not intervened? Baoyu’s love for Daiyu proves to be deep and all-consuming, yet Daiyu feels herself to be forsaken. Does Baoyu love better than Daiyu? Would the two have achieved happiness together?

11. Baoyu and Baochai are believed to be destined to marry each other because of his jade birth stone and her gold pendant: “Gold and jade make a perfect pair” in the words of an old saying (page 59). What is the notion of destiny that is in evidence in the family, and in the society? In what ways might this notion serve the purposes of the aristocratic class to which the Jia family belongs? Does it inform marriage choices, for example?

12. Discuss the character of Ping’er and how she is transformed by her journey over the course of the book. Is she a sympathetic character? Why or why not?

13. Could it be said that the central relationship of  Xifeng’s life is with Ping''er? How are they linked by bonds of friendship, rivalry, and sisterhood? How are these bonds broken, and in what ways do they ultimately survive?

14. Baochai is rigorous in observing the social codes and mores of her times. Does her propriety serve her well or poorly in a society that is undergoing political change? What does she gain by suppressing her emotions and serving her elders according to expectations? In what ways does she pay a price for doing so?

15. Daiyu and Baochai are paired in friendship and rivalry, as are Xifeng and Ping’er. Xifeng and Baochai win out in the Jia family, but it is a hollow victory. In what ways are Ping’er and Daiyu better off for having lost?

16. In the eighteenth-century novel Dream of the Red Chamber, the original ending was lost or suppressed, possibly for political reasons. What elements in the story could have been politically dangerous? If the novel reflected the life of the author’s family, what aspects of their private life might they have wished to conceal?

17. Compare and contrast Daiyu’s eventual marriage with that of her mother and father. What social and economic sacrifices did both Daiyu and her mother make for the sake of either love or marriage? Would Baochai or Xifeng have made those types of sacrifices?

18. Does The Red Chamber feel to you more like a classic or more like contemporary fiction? In what ways could The Red Chamber be considered truly a story for our time?

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