Rice (Su Tong) Book Review


Su Tong

Translated by Howard Goldblatt

Scribner, 2000.


Rice is a tale of hate. The author, Su Tong, searches deep into the human soul and what he discovers is not pleasant. Rice takes the ugliness of human nature to the extreme and beyond, and yet, despite horror upon horror, it’s a book that’s difficult to put down.

On a superficial level the novel is a family drama set in Shanghai in the early 1930’s just prior to the Japanese invasion. Rice is the story of a young rice farmer, Five Dragons, who flees from a flood ridden and famine stricken countryside to the brutal and decadent Shanghai of the 1930’s. His fortunes take a turn for the better when he finds work in the Feng family’s Great Swan Rice Emporium. Through a succession of intriguing events, Five Dragons becomes a member of the Feng family and heir to the emporium. From this moment the novel descends into an orgy of odium and vindictiveness, the like of which, is seldom depicted in writing.

The characters in the novel are impossible to like. Their fate is always linked to their own evil doings, thus leaving the reader with little sympathy when the inevitable comeuppance transpires. For in Rice, there is no redemption, there is no hero.

A novel that incorporates all the seven sins and could easily multiply them by three, Rice would make a fantastic TV series or even a film.

I would also highly recommend it for those wanting to know the darker side of 1930’s Shanghai from a Chinese perspective.

Su Tong is also the author of Raise the Red Lantern and Binu and the Great wall

Binu And The Great wall

Binu And The Great Wall is a wonderful myth retold in the words of Su Tong, the author of ‘Rice’. The myth of Binu and how her tears washed away the Great Wall have been passed down through the ages. It is a tale of hardship, brutality and undying love. Su Tong’s version of the myth, brings to the reader the harshness and brutality that led to the constuction of the wall and the terrible effects it had on the common people.

After reading Binu and The Great Wall it will be difficult to feel indifferent when you next stand on this immense monument to human suffering.