Lotus is the nom de guerre of a young woman from rural China, who left the village to seek better employment in the factories. On her deathbed, her mother had told her to take care of her younger brother; she intends to make money to support the family and send her brother to high school and university. After her cousin dies in a factory fire- the building locked to prevent workers from escaping- she moves on to the city. Here she soon finds herself working as a ji- a sex worker- in a low rent massage parlor. She sends virtually all her money home, telling her family she is waiting tables and earning big tips.
Bing is a photographer. He’s a middle class, middle aged man who couldn’t hack the business world of modern China. He wants to both make a difference in the world, and do something creative. He finds his calling in photojournalism, taking photos of the ji, especially Lotus, and telling their stories, which are not pretty stories. One of Lotus’s co-workers is not even 14; one is supporting her developmentally disabled son; another is supporting a low-life boyfriend who takes her for one abortion after another.
While the main focus is on Lotus and the development of her character as she navigates the perils of her life, it’s Bing’s coming of age, too, despite his age. I enjoyed watching them evolve and grow- and not end up in the place I thought they would. The descriptions of people and place are vivid and the divide between the privileged middle class and the poor is achingly exposed. The writing is a bit rough at times, but the reader has to remember that English is not Zhang’s first language and she wrote directly in it- this is not a translation. Four stars out of five- I’d give four and a half if Amazon would let me!
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