Wednesday 26 October 2022

Book Review: The Shaanxi Opera by Jia Pingwa (Literary/Historical Fiction)

Title: The Shaanxi Opera
Author: Jia Pingwa
Publisher: Amazon Crossing
Publication Date: 23 May 2023
Pages: 716
Format: eBook - EPUB
Genre: Literary/Historical Fiction
Source: ARC via NetGalley

Winner of the Mao Dun Literature Prize.

From one of China’s most celebrated authors comes a masterful novel about modernity and tradition, love and obsession, and economic change and quixotic dreams—all set against the backdrop of a rapidly urbanizing China.

In post–Cultural Revolution China, in the fading village of Freshwind, the fates of two households are shifting.

The Bais, once the most powerful family in the region, have fallen from status. Their beautiful daughter, Snow Bai, an embodiment of tradition, pursues a career in a vanishing art form. The Xias, enthusiastic members of the Party, are on the rise. Their favorite son, Wind Xia, is a citified politician whose marriage to Snow Bai could unite the two families. But in a village casting about for a new road to prosperity, fortunes can change. Watching it all unfold is a local outcast named Spark. The inveterate busybody is given to strange visions and flights of fancy, and is motivated by the only constant in Freshwind: his mad love for Snow Bai.

Expansive, funny, monumental, and deeply poignant, Jia Pingwa’s The Shaanxi Opera is a keenly observant portrait of China in an era of globalization, societal upheaval, and the growing influence of popular culture.


The Shaanxi Opera is a prize-winning book; however, I think it loses something in translation. I struggled to make my way through the 700+ pages. There were some fun and interesting moments, but after a while the endless minutiae of daily life in the village began to wear me down. I don't know if it was the original prose style or just an effect of the translation, but I also found some of the language used cringe-worthy and off-putting. Meanwhile, I don't think I know enough about traditional Chinese culture to grasp all the references and nuances in the text. From the blurb, it sounded like an interesting book, both from a fictional and cultural perspective, but in reality I found it at different times plodding, dull or cringe-inducing. I would happily conclude, however, that cultural differences and a lack of deeper understanding of the subtext could well play a major part in that in this instance. As such, I am giving it 3 stars. It may be better suited to those with some knowledge of traditional Chinese culture.

I received this book as a free eBook ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

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