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3.4 out of 5 stars13
3.4 out of 5 stars
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on 16 October 2006
I read Shanghai Baby in both English translated version and the original Chinese version.

I shall not repeat the storyline here, as this book has been widely publicized during the past 6 years.

I simply recommend EVERYONE to buy this English translated version of Shanghai Baby. If you love beauty and elegance of words, then, you have more than plenty here in this book.

The translator, Bruce Humes turned the otherwise coarse crude shallow original Chinese version of Shanghai Baby into a new-born book of a poetically sad tragedy, which could have happened in any human society, be it Communist or Democratic, be it in the Orient or in the West.

This is to say, if you could put up with Coco, the female main protagonist (the author herself), her extremely over-sized ego, and her unfathomable huge materialistic appetite for the Western label luxury goods.

I would give this English translated version of Shanghai Baby 5 stars in rating, and for the original Chinese version, zero star.
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on 3 March 2007
personaly, i found this book amazing, her language is unbelievably beautiful. maybe a hard read for people with a short atention span as she writes about everything she sees with such detail,but in her minds eye, which is what makes it so beautifull, along with that the storyline is interesting, not full of excitment but i personly found it exciting in its own way. its not a fairytale with a happy ending, its a truthly and quite disasterouse expression of someones life. one word to describe it would be beautiful, as iv said 3-4 times now, so you get the hint. i recemend it greatly.
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on 21 August 2012
This novel seemed an appropriate choice to follow on after my last read My Favourite Wife as it is also set in Shanghai and has a surprisingly similar theme, except this time seen from a Chinese girl's point of view. Causing something of a stir when it was first published in China it has been translated into English by Bruce Humes, this autobiographical novel does feel contrived, but this may be just caused by the difficulties in translating. If I had not already a little understanding of the lifestyle of a concubine I am sure I would have found this novel even harder to read than I did. I found it very interesting to compare with the last novel as the same sort of situations arose, the background of Shanghai was familiar and the descriptions of the city bring it alive. A female perspective about a society that is still undergoing great changes. Coco our heroine was not a character I took to as she came across as extremely egotistical.

The storyline is very simple, the protagonist Coco as she calls herself, has despite not completing her education dreams of becoming a writer. She lives with her boyfriend Tian, Tain, a strange young man, unemployed, a drug addict and unable to consummate their sexual relationship. It is no surprise really then that not satisfied with the platonic love he provides that she has a fervent affair with Mark, a married German. Why an earth did her boyfriend put up with this behaviour when it seemed so obvious to us the reader that she was still with him thanks to a personal allowance he had, a relationship of convenience. The love triangle created is hopeless with Tian Tian sinking fast from his drug abuse and Mark has a wife and daughter to consider. This young Asian woman seems to want both love and sex but sadly not necessarily from the same man.

In conclusion as literature this did not entertain me at all and I do not think my age was a factor, however from the cultural aspect I found it interesting enough. I think you can guess from my comments that I preferred My Favourite Wife and of the two that is the one I would direct you to if you do not want to read both.
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on 24 April 2011
This is a brilliant portrayal of how the cracks began to appear in Chinese society, particularly in Shanghai, in the 1990s. Coco, the semi-autobiographical central character, is a rebel - a 'ling lei' (then a new word in China) - when rebels were all but unknown in China. The power of the book is not in the story itself, which is not so unusual (sexual liberation and a doomed love-triangle), but in the portrait that emerges of 1990s' Shanghai. The book has spawned thousands of imitators but Weihui's eye for the seismic shifts occurring in Chinese society, and her feel for dramatic phrases, leave the others far behind.

The English version is an almost word-for-word translation of the Chinese. It does a good job of reproducing most of the events but, in my own view, rarely captures the blend of street and literary Chinese that Weihui employs (her degree from Shanghai's Fudan University was in Chinese language). As a portrait of fin-de-siècle Shanghai, however, it works very well. I recommend the book for anyone interested in China's social, rather than economic, journey forwards.
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on 13 October 2014
wonderfully frank tale of love in all it's guises. I love this book, and would recommend it to anyone. After reading I felt a strange sense of loss for Coco ( the heroine) and I was left mulling over the novel for days afterward.
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on 10 February 2010
Wei Hui's writing is self conscious, often overly descriptive, contrived and generally trying too hard. I gave up half way through as it just became tedious. Sorry Wei Hui.
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on 13 September 2008
Really interesting how the charater changes in the book. Great read and fantastic story line!
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on 28 March 2010
There are many reasons to mock Shanghai Baby - the irritatingly self-obsessed and clearly autobiographical protagonist, the clumsy translation, the unsexy sex scenes. But the most eye-rollingly awful thing about the book is that it exists in a world where everyone cares about your novel. That is, all the characters care deeply about the protagonist's novel, and as the protagonist is clearly Wei Hui, I can only assume that everyone in her real life cared deeply about this novel as she was writing it.

Perhaps the other characters in the novel have fascinating stories. Perhaps they breed exotic birds or practice martial arts; as readers we don't know, because protagonist Coco is too self-obsessed to make more than a passing mention to the other people in her life. Every character exists only to support and inspire Coco's writing. Her boyfriend Tian Tian encourages her to quit her waitressing job so that she can live in his house and write her novel full-time. Tian Tian does not have a job or dreams or ambitions of his own, because he exists only to help Coco write. Tian Tian spends his days cooking dinner for Coco, clearing up after Coco, and ensuring the house is kept quiet and stress-free for Coco; all so that she can write.

Everyone Coco meets seems to be deeply impressed that she published a book of short stories that no one has read. I have also published several short stories that very few people have read, but this does not seem to endear me to strangers; probably because I don't choose to open conversations with this snippet of information. Coco does not need to worry about this because whenever she is introduced to a stranger, someone conveniently informs the stranger that Coco is a writer. They are very impressed, of course, and ask all about her novel-in-progress, listening intently to her sighs over her terribly misunderstood art.

At times I doubted my own mind - was I just missing the point? Was this a wonderful piece of metafiction, rather than self-obsessed whining? I'm never averse to the possibility that I just don't get a piece of writing. Shanghai Baby is metafiction in that it constantly draws attention to the fact within the fiction - ie. the novel that Coco is writing is the novel that Wei Hui is writing, which is the novel that you, the reader, are currently reading. However, the novel does not actually do anything with this artifice. It seems to be nothing more than a masturbatory device to allow Wei Hui (or rather, Coco) to quote herself - later parts of the novel directly quote earlier parts, for no apparent reason except to allow us a second chance to appreciate the sheer genius of the prose.

I am a fan of fantasy stories. I like to be transported to a different world when reading fiction, and I am quite happy to suspend my disbelief as far as necessary. But a world where everyone you meet arranges their entire lives around your unwritten novel? That's just too far away from reality.
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on 14 August 2003
This novel is part factual, part fictional and part biographical but with even my limited knowledge of China i am aware that the time setting isn't quite right. Although i wasn't dissapointed by this book, it was a compelling read, it didn't live up to the expectation and hype. The plot was slightly limited and a throw away comment half way through made the end a little tedious.
This is a novel of one woman's unconditional love for her boyfriend and her passionate love for other people. These relationships are so fraught with complex emotions that they can't survive on a basic level.
The characters are well drawn and evolve during the novel. There is some great detail to the human race's vulnerability, the observations are acurate and while the characters are all very varied, they share common fears of rejection and failure. There are also some wonderfully philosophical and relevant quotes as an introduction to each chapter.
Wei Hui wanted to find a voice for generation and this book does that, it relays the confusion felt in a world where we are all so wrapped up in ourselves striving for unattainable perfection.
The most important point we should notice is the cultural differences caused by this book. "Publicly burned in China for its sensual nature and irreverent style" it wouldn't even cause a wave of unsuitability in the west.
Overall though i enjoyed the book and it was difficult to put down. I eagerly await more work from this author.
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on 20 September 2010
this book was absolute twaddle. As an avid book-reader, it is rare that I cannot see somethign positive in a book. but this was one of those books without any redeeming features. I can only think that a lot was lost in translation. Recommended for those who enjoy books where the author navel-gazes and manages to not engage readers in anything entertaining and/or meaningful. a waste of precious time spent in reading it, and money buying it.
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