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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

I Love Dollars

by
Zhu Wen


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase I Love Dollars



Title: I Love Dollars
Author: Zhu Wen
Genre: Stories
Written: (Eng. 2007)
Length: 240 pages
Original in: Chinese
Availability: I Love Dollars - US
I Love Dollars - UK
I Love Dollars - Canada
I Love Dollars - India
I Love Dollars - France
I love Dollars - Deutschland
Dollari, la mia passione - Italia
  • and Other Stories of China
  • First published between 1994 and 1999
  • Translated and with a Preface by Julia Lovell

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Our Assessment:

B : well-captured scenes from 1990s China

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Far Eastern Econ. Rev. . 3/2007 Jonathan Mirsky
London Rev. of Books . 6/9/2007 Jonathan Spence
Sydney Morning Herald . 9/6/2008 Nicola Walker
Taipei Times A+ 11/2/2007 Bradley Winterton


  From the Reviews:
  • "Zhu Wen's bleak, trenchant stories are a revelation. (...) Zhu Wen's outlandish satire, seemingly so modern, is paradoxically derived from a venerable literary tradition and it is fascinating to see how culturally different authors bend the genre to their own purpose." - Nicola Walker, Sydney Morning Herald

  • "Great satire -- think of Swift or Kurt Vonnegut -- has frequently been outlandishly comic on the surface while barely managing to disguise the despair at human stupidity and viciousness that lies underneath. These six stories are very much in this tradition, except that the comedy is so manic that you need to be nudged now and again before you're aware of the serious indignation at China's newfound commercialism that's also part of the author's world-view." - Bradley Winterton, Taipei Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       I Love Dollars consists of six longer stories of life in China in the 1990s, a time when the transition from the absolute government-dictated and controlled Maoist economy of the 1960s and 70s accelerated rapidly towards a much freer market-driven economy.
       The first-person narrator -- generally (at best) a variation of Zhu himself (in 'Pounds, Ounces, Meat' he even comes across someone carrying a copy of 'I Love Dollars') -- is not someone who has embraced capitalism and entrepreneurship. (The one story that is focussed on the workplace, 'Ah Xiao Xie', is about a state-controlled project (with huge cost overruns).) Instead, Zhu's stories present how this changing world looks and feels for the individual. His protagonist tends to be both aimless and rootless, but that feeling extends far more generally and beyond him.
       The protagonist's ties to women, for example, tend to be very loose, but others, too, only have the loosest ties to even family. Much of 'I Love Dollars' describes a visit by the narrator's father, and their search for the narrator's brother. He finally turns up, but it's hardly much of a reunion:

He barely said anything to Father; as he understood it, the aim of this meeting had been for Father to lay eyes on him. Now that that had been accomplished, he could leave.
       In 'A Hospital Night' the narrator gets roped into helping taking care of his girlfriend's father when he is hospitalised. She needs him to be there to save some sort of face, but his appearance is hardly acknowledged and there's no effort made to establish any sort of personal connexions:
There was no need to be like this, I thought, we might only meet this once in our whole lives, why not try to make a positive impression ? So I said to Li Ping in a low voice, how about some introductions ? Maybe that'll break the ice. The idea seemed to amaze Li Peng, who stared doubtfully back at me for a while before shaking her head. So I just let it lie.
       Several of the stories present what are essentially journeys to nowhere, from the fairly aimless wanderings in 'I Love Dollars' (where the narrator's greatest ambition seems to be to hook his father up with a woman) to 'A Boat Crossing'. The latter describes a boat-trip, and from the wait for the boat to dock (at Cape Steadfast) to the trip aboard the Orient itself it's a long journey into and full of uncertainty. The narrator barely knows where he is -- and it's no surprise to find him confused about even the most basic things:
Has the boat just docked ? Where are we ? How come I didn't notice ?
       These are question that many of the stories' protagonists could ask themselves at many points in the stories .....
       Money is an obsession in many of the stories too, especially the almost magical dollar (" Dollars -- they have this intoxicating generosity of spirit"), and the narrators often go into considerable detail about costs and what they spends (and what they get for it) and what people want from them. In 'I Love Dollars' there's little interest in romantic love: women (and access to sex and fondling) are a consumer item, they can be bought to grope for the price of a box seat cinema ticket. Many transactions resemble extortion more than an exchange of goods and services for cash in this world, too. Zhu's protagonists are also hardly high-rollers or just even budding capitalists, and are almost always very short of money; a major problem they all have is that while some see the appeal of the dollar this is still a world with too much arbitrariness (and the protagonists have too little capitalist drive) for them to literally work their way into some better position.
       In 'I Love Dollars' the father has a problem with what the author writes:
     "Is sex the only thing that matters ? Is there nothing else ?" Father threw the pile of manuscripts to one side, shaking his head furiously.
     "Let me ask you a question: how come you only pick up on the sex in what I write, and nothing else ?"
     "A writer ought to offer people something positive, something to look up to, ideals, aspirations, democracy, freedom, stuff like that."
     "Dad, I'm telling you, all that stuff, it's all there in sex."
       There's some sex (and the quest for it) in the story-collection, but it's far from the dominant feature. Indeed, it's like so much else in the book because it is so impersonal -- just something the individual engages in, with generally little concern or interest in the other party involved. It's striking how individualistic so many of these characters are, focussed almost solely on personal concerns.
       Not too much happens in most of the stories in I Love Dollars. Zhu describes this world well, but a big part of it is how little advancement there is: the characters don't get anywhere, barely change their situation. Zhu presents a convincing picture of (part of) this transitionary stage in China's modern history -- though one imagines things have accelerated far past what Zhu describes, with far greater extremes (and a faster pace) now.
       Zhu presents the material well, though there's a rambling feel to much of the writing, the small everyday and often seemingly insignificant steps described in considerable detail -- but then it's these mundane parts of life that are of particular interest to him. With its well-presented glimpses of a foreign culture and a specific historic period, as well as an atmosphere of Kafkaesque uncertainty, I Love Dollars is certainly of some interest.

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Links:

I Love Dollars: Reviews: Other books by Zhu Wen under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Chinese author Zhu Wen (朱文) was born in 1967.

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© 2007-2013 the complete review

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