Publisher description for Red poppies / Alai ; translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-chun Lin.
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Ambitious, beautifully told, filled with intriguing characters, panoramic settings, and high drama, RED POPPIES opens a window on a unique region of pre-occupation Tibet, dispelling many of the popular myths about a uniformly pacifistic society peopled by devout worshipers. Set in the eastern part of the country, whose autocratic chieftains received their power to govern from Chinese emperors in the late Ming and early Qing dynasties, this novel is about a feudal society in full, hot-house bloom. Lavish, sensual lifestyles, passionate romance, and bloody feuds take center stage in a sweeping historical tale that does for Tibet what the works of Garcia Marquez have done for Colombia and of Faulkner have done for the American South.
RED POPPIES is the story of the Maichi family, its powerful chieftain, his Han Chinese wife, his first son and presumptive heir, and his second, "idiot," son, the novel's narrator and unlikely hero. The time is the 1930s, the setting a stone fortress overlooking all the family rules, the arid plains of eastern Tibet, and a thinly scattered populous of peasant farmers, merchants, and ineffectual, often comical local lamas. A feud breaks out with a neighboring chieftain; an emissary from the Chinese Nationalists comes to the Maichis' aid with the tools of modern warfare. In exchange, fields of bright red poppies, valuable in the Nationalist-sponsored heroin trade, are to be planted instead of grain in a deal that makes the family even richer and earns them the enmity of nearly everyone.
The blooming of the poppies is only the opening act of an epic, cinematic story follows the surprising fortunes of the narrator to the eve of Tibet's occupation by the People's Liberation Army. The first novel in a projected trilogy, RED POPPIES is a complex political parable, a sensuous, riveting read, and finally a moving elegy to the lost world of the author's homeland, in all its cruelty, beauty, and romance.