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The Red Chamber    by Pauline A. Chen order for
Red Chamber
by Pauline A. Chen
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2012 (2012)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Elizabeth Crowley

In this splendidly-written novel, Pauline Chen creates an unforgettable story based on the Chinese literary classic, Dream of the Red Chamber. Lin Daiyu despairs when she learns thar she must go live with her wealthy uncle in Beijing after her mother dies. But Daiyu cannot imagine the complicated family politics which occur behind the closed doors of an aristocratic compound. When Daiyu arrives in Beijing, she hopes to learn more about her mother's early years living in the Rongguo Mansion. But Daiyu quickly learns that her mother has never been forgiven by her grandmother for marrying beneath her station. Daiyu also realizes that her grandmother, the matriarch of the family, considers Daiyu a black sheep.

Daiyu's story concentrates on how she adjusts to living with her wealthy relatives. Daiyu develops a special friendship with her cousin, Xue Baoyi. But the majority of her story revolves around her unexpected romance with her cousin Baoyu. Baoyu is handsome and a favorite of the formidable Granny Jia. But Baoyu has yet to pass his state exams, which creates much friction in his family. However, Baoyu's delay in passing his state exams is put on the back burner when the Jia family realize that Baoyu has fallen in love with cousin Daiyu. Although Daiyu's father does not object to the match, Granny Jia is adamant that Baoyu must marry his well-connected cousin Baochai, even if the marriage destroys the profound friendship which develops between Daiyu and Baochai.

The remainder of the novel focuses on the struggle behind the Emperor's throne and the future of the Jia family, which heavily depends on whom the Emperor names as his heir. The novel also features a cast of colorful characters, such as Wang Xifeng who is married to Jia Lian. Although Granny Jia is the matriarch of the Jia family, it is Xifeng who runs the household with an iron first. Granny Jia and Lian allow Xifeng to run the household until it becomes apparent that Xifeng will not provide an heir. Xifeng is horrified when her husband begins to show interest in her favorite maid. Once again, the bonds of friendship are tested. The Red Chamber transitions between Baoyu's love triangle with Daiyu and Baochai. But one of the most fascinating aspects of the novel is watching Xifeng's determination to remain mistress of the mansion, even after her husband takes another wife.

The Red Chamber sweeps readers away into a world of court intrigue, forbidden love, and the unwavering power of friendship among women during adversity. Although I have not read the original novel, Pauline Chen's magnificent storytelling has made The Red Chamber an instant favorite. This is a novel about unrelenting friendship among women. If I had to pick a favorite character in this impressive story, it would be the headstrong Wang Xifeng, who will not allow her husband to dismiss her authority even after her marriage has served its purpose to the Jia family. Readers will lose themselves in this well crafted novel about the innocence of young love and the ruthless deeds of those who thirst for power.

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