Hong Ying surpasses her previous novel, "K: The Art of Love," with a novel of heightened political and sexual -tension set around the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River. The largest construction project in the history of China, the dam opens in June 2004. Its controversial -reservoir will cut the famous Gorge to one third of its height and submerge the whole area, the cradle of Chinese civilization for three millennia.
When Beijing scientist Liu goes to visit her husband, the director of the dam project, she discovers he is being unfaithful and flees to her hometown. Taking refuge with her Auntie Chen, Liu is told by Chen how her mother gave birth to her in the midst of political turmoil and how both mother and daughter nearly died for lack of help. Chen's own son, Yueming, was born at the same time as Liu and is now a painter and key figure in a local cult bent on sabotaging the dam's construction. Finding themselves drawn together, Liu and Yueming realize they are a reincarnation of the prostitute Red Lotus and a Buddhist priest, whose affair led to their vilification and whose naked crucifixion is described in graphic sexual detail. With the souls of Red Lotus and the priest cementing the couple's attachment, Liu's decision to join Yueming in protesting against the dam means she must ultimately face imprisonment.
"Peacock Cries" boldly tackles the subjects of rein-carnation and spiritual quest in the face of economic development.
Hong Ying was born in Chingqing in 1962 into a sailor's family. She was the sixth child in a family of eight and endured great poverty and hunger as a child during the Great Famine and the Cultural Revolution.
A political drama set against the backdrop of the Three Gorges Dam project in China. Why Hong (K: The Art of Love, 2002, etc.) would choose to fight the damming of the Yangtze River and its resultant environmental damage by writing a novel is a question that arises from a reading of this one. Why she would provide an autobiographical preface explaining her own involvement with the Three Gorges region, then an afterword outlining the Chinese legend on which her book is based, is another. As a stylist, Hong is no W.G. Sebald, and when she creates situations that have environmental innuendos-a scene that takes place in a laboratory, for example, while a sandstorm rages outside-she telegraphs them as meaningful details, explorations of natural power to be controlled, and reflections of her characters' internal sensibilities. The story focuses on genetic engineer Liu, whose husband, Li, is the director of the dam project (they have in common that both seek to manipulate nature). When Li, a busy, moveable target, uncharacteristically has a pretty underling deliver a large bottle of perfume to Liu, Liu becomes suspicious and sets out to track him down. In the process, she takes a trip back to the region of her youth, where she learns about the corrupt world of the previous generation, including her father's involvement with the discrediting of his own friends, and perhaps her husband's lethal corruption. There, she meets Yueming, poor artist son of her mother's former best friend, who was born on the same day as Liu herself and who organizes protests against the high-handed treatment of peasants forced to vacate their land because of the dam project. In the end, the two approximate the legendary attempted escape of a prostitute and a monk who were executed solely to satisfy the personal ambition of Liu and Yueming's fathers, 50 years before. More politics than novel. A movie version could be more interesting than the print. (Kirkus Reviews)