Named one of the best books of 2017 by NPR's Book Concierge
Inspired by the secret life of the author’s grandmother, Lotus follows a young woman torn between past traditions and modern desires—as she carves out a life for herself in China’s “City of Sins”
“Standing outside the Moonflower Massage Parlor with three other girls, Lotus flashed her red smile at every passing man. She leaned against the glass front of the parlor, one leg bent like a crane's. Luring in the clients with sweet and oily words consumed a surprising amount of energy"
Reserved, at times defiant, Lotus is different from the other streetwalkers. Her striking eyes glow under Shenzhen’s neon lights, capturing the attention of Funny Eye, Family Treasure, and a slew of other demanding clients determined to make Lotus their property. Choosing between wealthy, powerful, and dangerous men is no easy feat, but it is a surprising offer from Binbing, a soft-spoken and humble photojournalist, that presents the biggest challenge. Is Lotus willing to fall in love? Is she capable of it?
Inspired by the deathbed revelation that the author’s grandmother had been sold to a brothel in her youth,Lotus offers compelling insight into China’s bustling underground world and reveals the surprising strength found in those confronted with impossible choices. Written with compassion and vivid prose, and packed with characters you won’t soon forget, Lijia Zhang's Lotus examines what it means to be an individual in a society that praises restraint in and obedience from its women.
After the memoir Socialism Is Great!, Zhang returns to the landscape of a rapidly changing China in this debut novel, which explores the daily life and inner world of Lotus, a young prostitute living in the city of Shenzhen, who supports her family in their rural village. Along with three other ji (prostitutes) of varying ages, Lotus lives at the massage parlor where she works and soon befriends Bing, a kind, cultured photographer who is staying nearby while he compiles a series of portraits of ji, including some of Lotus. After Bing accompanies Lotus to visit her family, their friendship deepens and their attraction to each other grows. But once Bing's photographs of Lotus are published in a national magazine and his engagement to her is exposed, their involvement threatens his standing in the Communist party. Although written in English, the book retains a distinctly Chinese vernacular, which, on one hand, helps to build the world of the novel, and yet, on the other, often reads like an awkward translation. Early on, during a night out with several wealthy clients, "the other men had taken their girls to different vehicles.... Lotus felt out of place in the luxurious setting." An encounter between Lotus and Bing is described as follows: "Inside their snow-white mosquito net, their sweat-lubricated bodies entwined together like eels." Though Lotus's story is compelling, the stilted prose often proves distracting.