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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Chaos and All That

Liu Sola

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

To purchase Chaos and All That

Title: Chaos and All That
Author: Liu Sola
Genre: Novel
Written: 1991 (Eng. 1994)
Length: 134 pages
Original in: Chinese
Availability: Chaos and All That - US
Chaos and All That - UK
Chaos and All That - Canada
  • Translated and with a Postscript by Richard King

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Our Assessment:

B+ : quick, rich novella of China in the Cultural Revolution and after

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
China Review International . Fall/1996 D.E.Pollard
World Lit. Today . Spring/1995 Ihab Hassan

  From the Reviews:
  • "No false notes here, no cracks in the authorial voice, as the skipping narrative -- not quite experimental, not quite postmod -- counterpoints the gongs of history with familial murmurs and the flute melodies of the heart. We are never in doubt as to where authenticity lies: in the circle of affections, in dreams that begin the responsibilities of art. Something, of course, in the nature of the novella--its febrile moment, its girlish insouciance -- may seem fragile, slight, Still, Liu Sola reveals herself already in serious possession of her extraordinary sensibility." - Ihab Hassan, World Literature Today

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:

       Chaos and All That centres around Huang Haha, a character whose life bears similarities to Liu Sola's own: born in the mid-1950s, she went to London to study in the 1980s, and the book moves back and forth between her out-of-place life in London and her memories of China. No doubt like the author herself, in London Huang Haha "had this sudden urge to write":

and a mass of material had come gushing out of her mind, a rag-bag of half-told stories, half-formed ideas, and half-remembered incidents
       Which pretty much describes this book as well. Not too desperately introspective, the approach works fine -- and because there's some fascinating material here, notably life during the Cultural Revolution and right after, and because of the fast pace of the short book, it's a quick, gripping read.
       The scenes from the Cultural Revolution, in particular, are effective, the perspective that of a young adolescent, eager to please in an uncertain world. Haha wants to join the Red Guard, for example, but is turned away because of her youth -- though what she believes is holding her back is her inability to curse properly. The bizarre pseudo-egalitarian China of that time -- where baseness was the highest aspiration, betrayal (especially of parents who didn't toe the line) a badge of honour, and school a place where the inmates now ruled the institution -- is described here with a remarkable mix of innocence (typical childish behaviour) and literally deadly seriousness. The strange (and changing) day-to-day world is more or less accepted as is: questioning does not get you very far.
       From the fascinations of human excrement to the petty power plays, Haha's youth is in many ways very normal -- just under the strangest of circumstances.
       Her mother was a privileged daughter of the revolution with high (and unfulfilled) expectations in her daughter, but the tables turned under the Cultural Revolution, leaving Haha ambivalent:
     But her sufferings in the Cultural Revolution turned her into a real mother. Almost overnight she became an old woman [.....] Seeing what she had become made me wish I could do ballet, opera, voice training -- anything -- if only she would be Anna again. But if the old Annaa spirit had actually come back, I would still have had to make a run for it.
       Eventually, Haha goes to university. Her thesis is titled: 'Substantiality and Insubstantiality in the Midst of Chaos' -- describing also the mix of the novel. Chaos certainly does not end with the end of the Cultural Revolution: from the sex-obsessed professor to a friend describing contemporary China's mad rush forward in a letter to Haha in London.
       Haha's present-day London life isn't explored that much; recollecting China seems her main preoccupation there -- though she does hook-up with a man (though he has a fiancée).
       At times, Liu leaves off where there would be ample room for more: the book barrels ahead, for the most part. The variety -- of experiences and approaches -- makes for a lively read, however. In his Postscript translator Richard King notes that there's a "juxtaposition of disparate elements" regarding the language of the novel, from slang to "bureaucratese" to song lyrics (classical to rock). Some of that is no doubt lost in translation, but even in English much comes across very well -- even something as ambitious as the variations on a lengthy poem. The influence of classical literature -- most notably The Story of The Stone and The Golden Lotus -- also anchors the novel nicely in tradition (using it, but also expanding on it). It's chaos here, but it's also very controlled.
       Ultimately, Chaos and All That does feel too fragmentary, the pieces shooting and then breaking off in too many directions. Still: certainly worthwhile.

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Chaos and All That: Liu Sola: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Chinese author and musician Liu Sola was born in 1955.

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