Sun, Aug 05, 2001 - Page 18 News List

A wild child finds self amid chaos

Annie Wang's 'Lily: A Novel of Tiananmen' is less about the Tiananmen protest, than about a young woman's personal tale of coming to grips with the world around her

By Bradley Winterton  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

The Tiananmen days are memorably evoked, but it's doubtful whether they are really as central to the story as the book's title suggests. This is indeed a time of tension for Lili, but for other reasons -- it's then that she discovers she is pregnant, and that two party activists turn up to interrogate her, and in the process inform her that her former lover has been deported.

The question at issue with regard to this book is how far the sentimentality of the love interest diminishes the undoubted vividness of the narrative as a whole. Wang has stated that what she wanted to create was a story in which a woman's view of the world is changed by her experience of events in Tiananmen Square in 1989. The only way this can relate to the book as published, however, is if Lili is first seen as a conventional girl accepting most of the beliefs of her fellows, and then suddenly perceives the truth of what her American boy-friend has been saying when she witnesses the actions of her government's troops.

But this is not what takes place. Instead, Lili has been a tear-away from the start, and believes most of what she hears from Roy the moment the words leave his mouth. The idea that she experiences a "sudden revelation," therefore, looks like something imposed later, possibly by marketing executives anxious for straightforward political appeal.

The cliche of the Asian girl steeped in the assumptions of her culture being swept off her feet by the tall and forthright Westerner both mars the work and fails to fit with the other ingredients of the tale. Nevertheless, this is a vibrant novel, a book that has more than enough liveliness and honesty in its detail to make up for any shortcomings in the plot.

But when Annie Wang thanks a long list of friends in her acknowledgments, citing some as contributing their expertise and others whose "wisdom and scholarship greatly improved Lili," it's inevitable that you start to wonder what the book would have been like had its author had been left to write it as she felt it, all on her own.

Publication Notes:

Lily: A Novel of Tiananmen

By Annie Wang

320 Pages

Pantheon books

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