Excerpt from The Bathing Women by Tie Ning, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Bathing Women

A Novel

by Tie Ning

The Bathing Women
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2012, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2014, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Rigby

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Print Excerpt


A few days later, Tiao received Fang Jing's second letter from San Francisco.

This was number two in Tiao's file:

Tiao:

You don't mind me leaving out the word "comrade," do you? I feel very strange. Why do I keep on writing to you—a girl who wouldn't condescend to ask for an autograph from me? When a large group of beautiful girls leaped at me, you backed away. Please forgive me for such a silly, conceited sentence. But they have been leaping at me constantly, which I've enjoyed for the last two years, half reluctantly, and yet with a feeling that it was my due. Then you appear, so indifferent and so puzzling. Right now, on the West Coast of the United States, thousands of miles away, your face on that day appears before me constantly, your eyes like an abyss that no one would dare to look into, your lips mysteriously sealed. I don't think you came to me on your own; you were sent by a divine power. When I left for America, I brought a map of China along as if compelled by a supernatural force. It was a little pretentious, as though I were showing off how much I love my country and what a fanatical patriot I am. Not until later did I realize I brought it because I wanted to carry with me on a map of China—Fuan—your city, where you live, small as a grain of rice on the map, which I constantly touch with my fingertips—that grain of rice just like . . . just like . . . I think, although we have only met once, we actually don't live far apart, only two hundred kilometers. Maybe sometime I will go to the city where you live to visit you. Does that sound ridiculous? If it's not convenient, you don't have to see me. I would be happy just to stand under your window. Also, after serious consideration, I believe the topic of your proposal is very important. I've made up my mind to write the book for you; I can write during downtime between scenes on set.

I went to the famous Golden Gate Bridge this afternoon. When I stood beside the great bridge to look at San Francisco in the sunset, the dream city created with its man-made island, I got a clear idea about this city for the first time. If I had misgivings or prejudices about cities before, San Francisco changed my perception. It made me realize the heights human wisdom and power could reach and what a magnificent scene the human and the city create together out of their striving. I don't know your life experience, and have no idea how much people your age know about Western cuisine. Here at Fisherman's Wharf, they sell a very interesting dish: a big, round, crusty loaf of bread with a lid (the lid is also bread). When you open it, there is steaming-hot, thick, buttery soup inside. The bread is actually a big bowl. You have to hold the bread bowl carefully while eating. You have a bite of bread and a mouthful of soup. After you finish the soup, you eat the bowl, which goes down to your stomach. When I stood in the ocean breeze eating my fill of the bread bowl, I recalled the years I spent in the labor camp. I was thinking even if I exhausted all the creativity in me, I couldn't have invented such a simple and unusual food. Oddly, I also thought about you. For some reason I believe you would love to eat this.

Of course, most of the time I was thinking about our country; we're too poor. Our people have to get rich as soon as possible. Only then can we genuinely and frankly get along with any of the cities in the world, and genuinely rid ourselves of the sense of inferiority hidden in the depths of our hearts, the sense of inferiority that usually reveals itself strongly in the form of pride. It also exists in me . . . I think I've taken too much of your time. I'll save many things for when we meet; I'll tell you more later, little by little. I've been feeling that we will have a lot of time together, you and I.

Excerpted from The Bathing Women by Tie Ning. Copyright © 2012 by Tie Ning. Excerpted by permission of Scribner. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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