Summary and book reviews of The Bathing Women by Tie Ning

The Bathing Women

A Novel

By Tie Ning

The Bathing Women
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  • Hardcover: Oct 2012,
    368 pages.

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Book Summary

From award-winning and bestselling Chinese writer Tie Ning comes a stunningly original novel that captures the spirit of a new generation of young professionals in contemporary China. The Bathing Women follows the lives of four women - Tiao, a children's book editor; Fan, her sister, who thinks escaping to America might solve her problems; Fei,a hedonistic and self-destructive young woman; and Youyou, a chef - from childhood during the Cultural Revolution to adulthood in the new market economy. This moving novel charts the journey of these women as they grapple with love, sibling rivalry, and, ultimately, redemption.

Beloved and renowned in China, Tie Ning's numerous books have never before been translated into English; this publication of The Bathing Women introduces a brilliant writer of uncommon talents, vision, and compassion to American readers. Spellbinding, unforgettable, and an important chronicle of modern China, The Bathing Women is a powerful and beautiful portrait of the strength of female friendship in the face of adversity.

Chapter 1
Premarital Examination
1

The provincial sunshine was actually not much different from the sunshine in the capital. In the early spring the sunshine in both the province and the capital was precious. At this point in the season, the heating in the office buildings, apartments, and private homes was already off. During the day, the temperature inside was much colder than the temperature outside. Tiao's bones and muscles often felt sore at this time of year. When she walked on the street, her thigh muscle would suddenly ache. The little toe on her left foot (or her right foot), inside those delicate little knuckles, delivered zigzagging pinpricks of pain. The pain was uncomfortable, but it was the kind of discomfort that makes you feel good, a kind of minor pain, coy, a half-drunk moan bathed in sunlight. Overhead, the roadside poplars had turned green. Still new, the green coiled around the waists of the light-colored buildings like mist. The city revealed its softness then...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The Bathing Women opens with Tiao contemplating the strange intersection of modern technology and old ways, as embodied by a girl on a bike. How is this intersection shown throughout the novel? How do the different characters handle the sweeping changes in China?

  2. Despite moving to the countryside at a very young age, Tiao always considers herself a Beijinger. What does it mean to her to be from the city?

  3. There are three major incidents in Tiao's life: the public shaming of Teacher Tang; the discovery of her mother's infidelity; and Quan's death. How do each of these moments change and define her? How well does she deal with them?

  4. Discuss Tiao, Fan, and Fei's complicity in Quan's death. Is their guilt ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

For those who were born outside of communism, The Bathing Women sheds light on some of the Cultural Revolution’s tragedies and effects on young people, but it is not political strife that marks this work as noteworthy – it is the careful exploration of love, loss, and the challenges of friendship and sisterhood that extend across time and culture which leave a lasting impression.   (Reviewed by Karen Rigby).

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Media Reviews
Author Blurb Kenzaburo Oe, Nobel Laureate
If I were to pick the ten best literary works in the world of the past ten years, I would definitely rank The Bathing Women among them.

Author Blurb Xinran, author of Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother and The Good Women of China
Tie Ning's unique novel about three Chinese women and their struggles with families and men in today's fast-changing China is as gorgeous as the Cezanne painting the novel takes its title from.

Author Blurb Hannah Pakula, author of The Last Empress: Madame Chiang Kai-shek and the Birth of Modern China
A probing and gracefully written portrait of an extended Chinese family, related by blood and mystery, in which the author explores areas of human behavior traditionally considered off-limits: the intimate and sexual lives of ordinary Chinese women.

Publishers Weekly

Set amidst shifting cultural values, this is a psychologically astute portrait of four women struggling to satisfy their appetites for food, camaraderie, family, community, sex, and love.

Booklist

Starred Review. Ning masterfully pins down the kaleidoscope of emotions aroused by her characters’ actions, and moments of pain and conflict are colored with heartrending beauty. Her characters make desperate, often self-destructive decisions, but it seems as though they have no choice but to hurtle toward their future.

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Tie Ning

Tie NingShort story writer, Chinese novelist and the youngest, first female President of the Chinese Writers Association (elected at age 49 in 2006), Tie Ning has long written about ordinary female protagonists who are often from rural backgrounds. From her 1982 story Oh, Xiangxue, which won an Excellent Short Story award and featured a country girl as the protagonist, to signature works such as How Long is Forever (1999, published in a Reader's Digest edition in 2010), which pits an innocent, traditional young woman against adverse conditions, and Da Yu Nv (2000), a novel which depicts themes of love, infidelity, and tension between sisters, Ning has sought to create honest portraits of women, exploring their pain and desire with empathy. ...

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