Buy Used
£2.80
Used: Very Good | Details
Sold by the book house
Condition: Used: Very Good
Comment: This item will be picked, packed and shipped by Amazon and is eligible for free delivery within the UK
Have one to sell?
Flip to back Flip to front
Listen Playing... Paused   You're listening to a sample of the Audible audio edition.
Learn more
See this image

The Dissident Paperback – 21 Mar 2008

4 customer reviews

See all 7 formats and editions Hide other formats and editions
Amazon Price New from Used from
Paperback, 21 Mar 2008
£1.69 £0.01



Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (21 Mar. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330493442
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330493444
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 2.7 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,230,482 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Discover books, learn about writers, and more.

Product Description

Review

'Freudenberger's novel is gossipy, intellectual and splendid.' -- Guardian

About the Author

Nell Freudenberger has traveled extensively in Asia, where she volunteered with several humanitarian organizations and taught English in Bangkok and New Delhi. Shortlisted for the Orange New Writing Prize 2005 for her short story collection, Lucky Girls, she lives in New York City.

Inside This Book

(Learn More)
Browse Sample Pages
Front Cover | Copyright | Excerpt | Back Cover
Search inside this book:

Customer Reviews

2.8 out of 5 stars
Share your thoughts with other customers

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By T-bone on 11 July 2008
Format: Paperback
I have just finished reading "the dissident" and I adored it. I read it in one day, despite thinking it would take me a while to read I could not put it down. I became so absorbed in the characters and the plot, wondering what was going to happen in each strand of the story. the book is divided into many short chapters which also makes you want to continue reading, everytime you think about stopping to do something else you decide to read another chapter and then get sucked back into the story.
I found this book to be hugely enjoyable. I think the other reviewer covers the story points pretty well, so all thats left for me to say is give this book a try, it is one of the better books I have read this year. I loved it.
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
By Manchester Manual on 29 Nov. 2008
Format: Paperback
Freudenberger's first novel tells the story of Chinese performance artist, Yuan Zhao, during his year as visiting professor at a private all-girls high school in Los Angeles. Much of the novel is concerned with the family relations of his affluent and drearily dysfunctional hosts (affairs, denial, eating disorders, weaponry). This is disappointing as his accounts of events in China are by far the novel's most interesting strand. Time seems to be something of a problem for Freudenberger as characters fall into settled routines while still recovering from their jet lag. Pacing too, as it is only after 200 pages that Zhao makes it into the classroom and begins some painting. Early on we are told that he is an expert in counterfeiting, and an awkard sentence on page 5 suggests, possibly unintentionally, that he is a female impersonator. I never did find out as the novel demanded either an abrupt shift in pace as Freudenberger crammed the remaining 11 months into the other half of her novel, or there'd only be another six weeks of trance-like tedium
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By bloodsimple on 22 Aug. 2008
Format: Paperback
If this is the best young American novelist, heaven help the rest of them. This won a Granta award, but really only deserves it for a sumptuous cover. What lies beneath is, frankly, lame.

The book attempts to meld the story of a dissident Chinese artist on a year's secondment to Los Angeles, with the wealthy family who host him. In fact, this is one of the problems - the two stories have no real connection. The family issues could exist independently of the artist's relatively minor travails, and vice-versa. Constant expectations that they will intertwine or - gasp - actually be relevant to each other, are sorely disappointed.

You would expect a first novel to have some faults, perhaps a naivety, but to exude passion for the story. In fact, this book has no passion at all. It reads with all the drama and energy of those airline magazines you have to read on long flights. Freudenberger sure wants you to know she's Googled her research, but she would have better employed the time finding a story she really believed in, so that she could communicate that commitment to us. As it is, the book reads like a bad Paul Auster rip-off, attempting to substitute technical brilliance for a lack of plot. But it lacks technical brilliance.

The American characters, in particular, look like they've wandered off the set of a one-series-and-out teen drama. They are lacking charisma, fascination, or even eclectic quirks. And everyone in the book seems to exist purely as a plot device for every other character. Freudenberger could murder everyone on the last page, and you just wouldn't care. Regrettably, she doesn't. The ending, which the author spends 400 pages previewing, is obvious, poorly handled and almost apologetic.
Read more ›
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Friederike Knabe on 25 Nov. 2006
Format: Hardcover
Inspired by Chinese experimental art of the early nineties, Freudenberger builds a story broadly based on some of the members of the Beijing "East Village" experimental artistic community. Primarily told from the perspective of a fictitious member, Yuan Zhao, the narrative moves between the group in China and life in Los Angeles where "Mr. Yuan" experiences a different world as a resident artist, hosted by a wealthy Beverly Hills family.

Interleafed with Zhao's narrative is the story of his host family, the Travers. They are depicted as a rather dysfunctional family of four, living parallel lives with little more than superficial interaction. They appear to have little interest in the "Dissident". Cece, the Travers family's "mother hen", attempts to maintain the facade of a harmonious family. She is Mr. Yuan's main interlocutor, yet, her mind is not focused on her guest but rather on her own emotional hang-ups involving her brother-in-law. Father, son and daughter, while present physically, are mentally elsewhere. Revealing only the bare minimum facts about them, the author doesn't make them come alive as characters and they remain two-dimensional stereotypes. The sister-in-law, an aspiring author, has her own reasons for approaching the "Dissident". She may be closer to discovering some truths about him that escaped the others.

Despite the lack of depth of character development, much space is given to describing the trials and tribulations of the members of the Travers household. The narrative flows quite easily as each short chapter zooms in on one of the main characters. Seeing them all together at a Thanksgiving dinner reveals a plastered over façade. Yuan Zhao appears to be quite disconnected from this reality and retreats increasingly into his own world.
Read more ›
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again

Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 14 reviews
33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
Performers and artists 15 Aug. 2006
By Friederike Knabe - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Inspired by Chinese experimental art of the early nineties, Freudenberger builds a story broadly based on some of the members of the Beijing "East Village" experimental artistic community. Primarily told from the perspective of a fictitious member, Yuan Zhao, the narrative moves between the group in China and life in Los Angeles where "Mr. Yuan" experiences a different world as a resident artist, hosted by a wealthy Beverly Hills family.

Interleafed with Zhao's narrative is the story of his host family, the Travers. They are depicted as a rather dysfunctional family of four, living parallel lives with little more than superficial interaction. They appear to have little interest in the "Dissident". Cece, the Travers family's "mother hen", attempts to maintain the facade of a harmonious family. She is Mr. Yuan's main interlocutor, yet, her mind is not focused on her guest but rather on her own emotional hang-ups involving her brother-in-law. Father, son and daughter, while present physically, are mentally elsewhere. Revealing only the bare minimum facts about them, the author doesn't make them come alive as characters and they remain two-dimensional stereotypes. The sister-in-law, an aspiring author, has her own reasons for approaching the "Dissident". She may be closer to discovering some truths about him that escaped the others.

Despite the lack of depth of character development, much space is given to describing the trials and tribulations of the members of the Travers household. The narrative flows quite easily as each short chapter zooms in on one of the main characters. Seeing them all together at a Thanksgiving dinner reveals a plastered over façade. Yuan Zhao appears to be quite disconnected from this reality and retreats increasingly into his own world. From the outset, he has raises questions about his own identity, his background and the quality of his art. Why was he chosen for the prestigious art fellowship? Why, for example, does he, as a modern artist spend his time copying a famous classical Chinese scroll of the 13th century instead of preparing for his grand exhibition? Is he a dissident at all? He feels that he doesn't belong in the role he plays in L.A. Between the flashbacks to Zhao's youth with his participation in the experimental performance scene around his courageous cousin X, and his observations of his American surroundings, it is left to the reader to slowly piece together who Yuan Zhao really is.

Freudenberger creates an animated and engaging picture of life among the artists of Beijing's the East Village. The group had developed a performance style of what could be called living art. The performers engaged in awkward or provocative poses, mostly naked or covered in some organic paste. The aim was to challenge traditional art forms. Audiences were invited, foreign journalists and art scholars were especially interested. So were the police who often arrested the artists right after the show. A performance was itself the artistic piece and with its dismantling the artwork disappeared. Could it be recreated at another time and in another environment? Probably not, unless, of course, a photographer captured the scene. As he did, his own artistic vision of the living sculpture superimposed itself on the original art. This invites the question of who in the end is the artist?

A popular performance was called "Something that is not art". Yuan Zhao introduces this theme in a competition to his art class at a prestigious girls' high school where he volunteers as the guest teacher. The adolescent girls are not easy to deal with and a series of damaging events potentially undermines the teacher. The result of the competition is not what is expected, demonstrating the limitation of imagination of the school authorities as well as most of students.

With "Dissident" Freudenberger has created an intriguing portrait of a representative of the Chinese artist community starting with the early nineties. Here, her characters are alive and realistic. Yuan Zhao, while surprisingly candid in his self analysis, is a captivating complex character. By way of his account of his past the reader is introduced to a fascinating aspect of Chinese society that would normally be out of reach. On the other hand, unfortunately, Freudenberger is not as successful in the characterization of the Travers and the Beverly Hills environment. While her style is easygoing and direct, the reader would have liked more cohesion and integration of loose ends. [Friederike Knabe]
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
A thought-provoking novel that depicts the fragility and complexity of relationships 3 Nov. 2006
By Bookreporter - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
There are writers who claim to be more comfortable (and readable) when working in a specific format. Raymond Carver was championed for his quick and dirty yet immensely powerful short stories, while a writer like Orhan Pamuk is known for his captivating and expansive full-length fiction. Then there are those who try their hand at both and find that they are just as adept at creating one as they are at creating the other. With a highly acclaimed collection of short stories (LUCKY GIRLS) under her belt, and this slightly longer than average novel recently published to mostly rave reviews, Nell Freudenberger seems to be one of those versatile authors who can shine in either realm.

THE DISSIDENT is both a multilayered story meant to entertain its audience and a meandering exposé on the very nature of art, truth and perception. As expertly noted by one of its central narrators, Yuan Zhao, while it "might seem to be a story about politics and art and even death, it will touch on those topics in only the most superficial ways." Instead, it is "a story about counterfeiting, and also about the one thing you cannot counterfeit." Right from the beginning, Freudenberger establishes (through Zhao's words) that not everything is what it seems to be and that readers should be aware of this before embarking on their journey.

The novel opens as the man who refers to himself as Yuan Zhao (the "dissident" of the book's title) has just moved to Los Angeles from China to perfect his craft and integrate himself into American culture. He has accepted a teaching position at the exclusive St. Anselm School for Girls in Beverly Hills, where he hopes to instruct fledgling artists on the intricacies of traditionalist Chinese painting. According to a Taipei Times article (and much to the excitement of the school and his host family), Yuan had been a member of an ultra-radical group of artists in the East Village of Beijing, and was twice imprisoned for his avant-garde approach to digesting and reinterpreting both Western and Eastern artistic practices and for advocating a revolutionary style of artistic expression. In America, he hoped to distance himself from his volatile reputation and Chinese censorship in order to create a new and impressive body of work. Or so it might seem...

Yuan's upper-middle-class host family is a collection of ruddy characters who, like the dissident, each hold secrets of their own. Cece is perhaps the book's most developed character, with a depth and deep sincerity that is both generous and heartbreaking to behold. She is a doting mother to her two teenage children --- the girlishly popular Olivia who attends St. Anselm and the typically sullen Max --- and a good wife to her stiff and sexless psychiatrist husband, Gordon. Good, aside from the clandestine affair she's been having on-again, off-again with Gordon's feeble-minded brother, Phil, who can't seem to make heads or tails of his own life, despite a deceptively healthy relationship with Aubrey --- his girlfriend back in New York --- and a screenwriting deal he just closed on a play he wrote based on his indiscretions with Cece.

Other minor characters include Joan, Gordon's supposedly successful but somewhat ingratiating younger sister whose writing career never seems to please her and who consequently is always on the lookout for the next lead (translation: Yuan's "real" story); June, Yuan's most talented student and the only character in the book who seems to possess true inner strength, vision and self-awareness; and X, Yuan's mysterious cousin back in China who was a forerunner in the East Village movement and an implacable influence on Yuan in more ways than one.

Most of the plot is a back-and-forth saga between the characters as they fumble to communicate and understand each other's intentions. Gordon and Cece's marriage is a sham and ultimately crumbles, despite their best efforts to stay together for the kids. Cece and Phil dance madly (and pathetically) around their affection for each other, leaving Aubrey to finally ditch Phil in a fit of desperation and long-needed self-preservation. Joan putters doggedly yet emptily after her story on Yuan. And Yuan --- well, that mystery is finally revealed.

Freudenberger is a true master at depicting the fragility and complexity of relationships. In both LUCKY GIRLS and THE DISSIDENT, her characters push and pull at each other in hopes of finding communion, understanding and acceptance. Although THE DISSIDENT tackles broader themes when examining the political and artistic differences inherent in Chinese and American culture, the bulk of its impact lies in its exploration of its characters' interactions. Some readers might wish that Freudenberger would have delved a bit further into Yuan's past (the descriptions never quite take hold) and that his future (the ending) wasn't so easily and neatly resolved. (How could it be, after such thorough deception?) But nonetheless they will be left pondering the fate of the book's vivid characters long after the story has been told.

--- Reviewed by Alexis Burling
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Two stories, one worthwhile. 4 Jan. 2007
By algo41 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
"The Dissident" is a very well written account of the time a Chinese artist spends in the US on a cultural grant, the back story, and an epilog. The back story focuses on a period in his college life when he and his girlfriend were involved with a small community of avant garde artists in a run down section of Beijing. I infer from the author's acknowledgments that this artistic community is based on fact. What I am calling the epilog is intended to make the reader feel good about how things end up, and it does succeed in this. The story is interesting, benefiting from the historical dimension and the discussions about art.

Unfortunately, there is a parallel story in the novel, of the family with which the artist stays. While written well enough, dialogue, pacing and so forth, the story is not very compelling. The mother is a well drawn character, but she is the exception in this parallel story. Much time is spent on her brother-in-law, a self absorbed, dull character who is of little interest, and the lesser characters are even less developed. Had more time been spent on her husband, and why he had become so cold, "The Dissident" might have been a better novel.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Some bright points 26 Sept. 2009
By A. Wilson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
This book tells the story of a mysterious Chinese artist who travels to America with an arts fellowship and is hosted by a wealthy Californian family, the matriarch of which is a brooding blonde with her own secrets to hide. Things don't go exactly as planned...or do they? The characters each have their own uniquely tinged identity crises and the reader's challenge is to find out who is who beneath the patina of first impressions. I liked the book, although the portions of the narrative set in China featuring the "the dissident" and his band of situationists seemed contrived and awkward. The author tries to capture a specific moment in time in China of great inspiration and creation, but the picture lacks genuine sensorial depth and consistency. I never really believed the "dissident" character's narration was genuine, not only because of his allusions to chameleon behavior, but because his experience is so far removed from the author's. The author seems most comfortable delineating urban, domestic America, and perhaps the novel would have had more momentum had it focused - perhaps more succintly - on that world. Toward the end, I found myself skipping over the China-based chapters out of sheer tedium and the fact that much of the expository writing about the Chinese dissident community didn't really seem to forward the narrative or capture my interest. The book also features many different plot lines, and as a reader I never got that feeling of relief when everything feels like it's finally coming together, rather it just seemed to peter out.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Great author 12 Dec. 2012
By Love to Receive Packages - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Interesting read- good for discussion group topic on the meaning of art and cultural differences- also identity issues- bought based on later book
Were these reviews helpful? Let us know

Look for similar items by category


Feedback