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This review is taken from PN Review 185, Volume 35 Number 3, January - February 2009.

PEACH BLOSSOM SPRING CHIEW-SIAH TEI, Little Hut of Leaping Fishes (Picador) £14.99

Chiew-Siah Tei's Little Hut of Leaping Fishes is a family saga spanning the years 1875 to 1900 in China. At the outset of the novel we are told that, as a boy, the novel's hero, Mingzhi, is particularly fond of the legend of Peach Blossom Spring. (Given the frequent recurrence of this motif and the novel's attention to Chinese literature elsewhere, it seems strange that we are told this legend stems from Ming dynasty folklore and not from Tao Qian, a Chinese writer living about a thousand years earlier.) This is the story of a fisherman who stumbles across a spring of spectacular beauty, where people live a free, blissful life. In the end, the fisherman leaves Peach Blossom Spring to return to a life of worldly concerns. The young Mingzhi is confused as to why the fisherman would ever have left - this is the question to which the book addresses itself.

Mingzhi is a man of lofty but narrow ambition. He wants to be a Mandarin, start a family and administer his town. The title of the novel refers to the courtyard house Mingzhi designs for himself: 'This is my world, my Taohua Yuan. My long-lost Peach Blossom Spring.' But the rival concerns of personal loyalty and public morality make this life impossible for him. He becomes increasingly aware of the inequalities and cruelty that surround him and exist even within his own family. Eventually, the Boxer Rebellion and the revelation of the ...

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