Friday, July 4, 2008

The Concubine of Shanghai by Hong Ying

Hong Ying is a controversial Chinese author who is known for her honest work focusing on the sexuality of women in China, both the positive and negative aspects. In her new work, Ying introduces us the world of the concubine - the women who lived in brothels (many times because they have been sold by their families into sexual slavery) and were at the mercy of powerful men and brothel owners. Ying's heroine is a woman sold into sexual slavery to a Shanghai brothel; she finds herself in love with a powerful member of the Chinese Triad, a mob organization that controlled illegal activities in China. When her lover is killed in front of her, she is left out in the cold and must fend for herself. A strong woman who can only rely on her sexuality to survive in the China of the 19th Century, the story spans a huge historic period as the reader journeys through her life. Ying's beautiful, poetic writings keeps the reader intrigued and devoted. We want our heroine to succeed and overcome. This is a beautiful book with import that should be read by all.

There's been loads of press about this book, including the recent Showtime series. Heralded as the tell all of a high priced call girl and one of the best-selling books in Europe, this book left me truly bewildered. Told in a series of diary entries, our anonymous writer (her pen name is Belle du Jour) outlines her sexual escapades with no stone left unturned. We are "flies on the wall" at her various jobs and learn just how a call girl treats her clients. With a minimal plot line (Belle does have a boyfriend, N, who is okay with her career choice), this is nothing more than a book meant to sexually entice and titillate. Half-way through, I had enough and put it aside; there was no way I could continue to read about anal sex or blow jobs. Personally, readers - take a pass.

The Crazy School by Cornelia Read

Cornelia Read is truly one of my favorite authors. Not only does she deliver intriguing story lines, she writes with clarity and strength. In her new work, Read tells the story of a young woman who teaches in a school for problem teens. It is clear from the outset that something is terribly wrong at this institution; the students are terrorized by the head of the school whose methods are akin to CIA techniques used on terrorists. As the mystery unravels, our heroine must save not only herself but her students from a system that is meant to destroy rather than help. Read's storytelling is what sets this book apart from the typical "them against us" teen tale. A talent, Read is a must "read" this summer.