The sweeping epic novel Red Poppies, by Tibetan author Alai, is set in eastern Tibet in the middle of the last century. It chronicles the waning days of the once-powerful Tibetan chieftains and the rise of the Communist Chinese state. The tale is narrated by the son of one of the most powerful chieftains, a son considered an idiot by his family. But this supposed idiot consolidates his family's power and wealth with peasant good sense and cunning. And cunning is what is required to survive in this brutal world, where tribal revenge is exacted by ordering decapitations and the cutting off of tongues and ears. There's plenty of lusty sex in this picaresque novel, as well as bloody battles, devastating earthquakes, and the political maneuvering of Tibetan monks. The writing, translated from Chinese by Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-chun Lin, is beautiful. In one strange and wonderful scene, mice are drawn to an opium processing shed by the intoxicating aroma; they gather on the rafters, swoon into the vats, and then are cooked and eaten as delicacies.
Red Poppies became a bestseller when it was originally published in China in 1998 and went on to win China's highest literary award in 2000. It's the first book of a projected trilogy from the author, so readers have much to look forward to. --Susan Biskeborn [via]