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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Moon Opera

Bi Feiyu

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To purchase The Moon Opera

Title: The Moon Opera
Author: Bi Feiyu
Genre: Novel
Written: (Eng. 2007)
Length: 117 pages
Original in: Chinese
Availability: The Moon Opera - US
The Moon Opera - UK
The Moon Opera - Canada
L'Opéra de la lune - France
Die Mondgöttin - Deutschland
  • Chinese title: 青衣
  • Translated by Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-chun Lin

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Our Assessment:

B : tries to do a bit too much

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
NZZ . 6/6/2006 Ludger Lütkehaus
The Times A 26/10/2007 Kate Saunders

  From the Reviews:
  • "Eine bittere Parodie auf die unsterbliche Schönheit von Mondgöttinnen also. Doch Bi Feiyu hat aus der Geschichte einer alternden Diva der Peking-Oper einen fesselnden Roman von grosser psychologischer Spannung, eine bewegende Alters- und Rollentragödie gemacht. Die bei einer Peking-Oper obligate Symbolik wird nicht überstrapaziert. Dafür ist Bi Feiyus Realismus zu drastisch, seine Metaphorik zu präzise" - Ludger Lütkehaus, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "This tiny, perfect novel concerns the hermetic world of traditional Peking Opera." - Kate Saunders, The 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:

       The Moon Opera centres around one-time promising Peking Opera star Xiao Yanqiu, who ruined her career right at its start when she attacked her understudy in a production of the ill-starred The Moon Opera in 1979. Now, twenty bitter years later, in a very different time, The Moon Opera is to be staged again, and the benefactor who funds the performance, a factory owner from these capitalist times, wants Yanqiu to perform again. She's up to it -- she's been teaching in the meantime, but is still in good voice and still knows the part that she was born for -- but she is now forty, and she selects as her understudy a promising young talent .....
       The opera of the title is a semi-classic piece that already got off to a bad start: commissioned in 1958, a general's objection that, since China was such a lovely country, "Why would any of our young maidens want to flee to the moon ?" enough to mean curtains for the show before it was ever put on. In 1979 things were starting to get better, but then Yanqiu lashed out and ... well, obviously: "Fortune did not favour The Moon Opera". Another two decades later the world is a different place, and it is money rather than political correctness that matters:

But good fortune seemed to have lost its mystique. Now it was all about money; only money could slip in through a crack in the doorway.
       And the novella nicely shows the new power of the nouveau riche, with the enigmatic factory boss representative for the new strange ways of capitalism. But it is more about Peking Opera, and the story of any art form, where youth eventually displaces the aged, and yet where it is important to uphold traditions and maintain a uniformity across the ages. In her understudy Yanqiu finds a girl she can mold exactly in the role's image -- yet that also means giving up her complete hold over it. For the performance they are to share the duties, the understudy on for part of the show, then Yanqiu bringing things to a triumphant close. But this is the ill-starred The Moon Opera, and you just know things aren't going to work out quite that neatly.
       When he focusses on Yanqiu, Bi eventually gets going nicely, building up a character portrait that, if at first too black-and-white, becomes nuanced. The resulting tragedy is, appropriately enough, more than a tad operatic-melodramatic, but it makes for a decent tale.
       Unfortunately, the translation is rather rocky. In part that can be ascribed to Bi's style, which favours description along the lines of:
Her weight plummeted like stocks in a bear market. She lost the fat but gained skin, which, like a found purse, hung from her body limply. The extra skin gave the illusion that she was more form than content.
       You can see what he means, but here's a case where the English translators (and, yes, there were apparently two at work on this, with the renowned (but perhaps spreading himself a bit too thin ?) Howard Goldblatt headlining) have got to help things along a bit. 'Like a found purse' just will not do, and neither will most of the rest of this.
       If it were just a case of a few misbegotten sentences and scenes it wouldn't matter so much, but there are too many examples of this stuff:
She had put on weight, but was as frosty and aloof as ever, emitting coldness like an air conditioner.
       Admittedly, much of this reads like it is true to the original -- i.e. a very literal translation -- but here's a case where translators must step in (or rather: be pushed by their editors) and tune the text to English-speaking ears. As is, The Moon Opera reads like the first draft of the translation, not what one would hope the finished version would be.
       Bi has a few too many ambitions for his short tale, and it feels a bit out of focus before it settles squarely and fully on Yanqiu, but it's a solid, melodramatic tale -- though falling a bit short of being truly affecting. It is an opera story, and those who like Western opera will find it just as entertaining as fans of the Peking Opera style. Bi's writing misses the mark a few too many times, and the translation doesn't help, but it's a perfectly readable little tale.

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The Moon Opera: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Chinese author Bi Feiyu (毕飞宇) was born in 1964.

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