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Authors: Pauline A. Chen

Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #Cultural Heritage, #Sagas

The Red Chamber

BOOK: The Red Chamber
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THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK
PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF

Copyright © 2012 by Pauline A. Chen

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

www.aaknopf.com

Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Chen, Pauline A., [date]
The red chamber / Pauline A. Chen. — 1st ed.
p.   cm.
“This is a Borzoi book.”
eISBN: 978-0-307-95841-9
1. Women—China—History—18th century—Fiction. 2. Female friendship—Fiction. 3. Beijing (China)—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3603.H4553R43 2012 813′.6—dc23 2012005050

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental
.

Jacket art:
Spring Dream in the Still of the Palace
, by Jiang Guofang

v3.1

And that was when, faced with a real death, and with this new wonder about men, I laid aside my drafts and hesitations and began to write very fast about Jack and his garden.

V. S. Naipaul,
The Enigma of Arrival

In loving memory of
BIH-JAU CHEN
6 OCTOBER 1939, TAIPEI, TAIWAN
10 JUNE 2008, PORT JEFFERSON, NEW YORK

Contents

Cover

Title Page

Copyright

Epigraph

Dedication

Author’s Note

Major Characters

Jia Family Tree

Part One

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16

Part Two

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11

Part Three

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12

Part Four

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10

Part Five

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4

Part Six

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7

Part Seven

Chapter 1

Epilogue

A Note on the Text

Acknowledgments

A Note About the Author

Reader’s Group Guide

Author’s Note

The Red Chamber
is inspired by Cao Xueqin’s
Dream of the Red Chamber
, the eighteenth-century novel widely considered the most important work of fiction in the Chinese literary tradition. However, Cao’s masterpiece is largely unknown to western audiences, perhaps due to its daunting length (2,500 pages) and complex cast of characters (more than 400). My book,
The Red Chamber
, makes little attempt to remain faithful to the original plot, but is a reimagining of the inner lives and motivations of the three major female characters. In a world where women lacked power and were pitted against one another by the system of concubinage, these characters are strong and unforgettable, forging bonds with each other that far transcend sexual rivalry. In addition, like many readers, I was haunted by a sense of incompletion: Cao’s original ending has been lost, and a new ending was written by another hand after his death. What follows is my attempt to finish the story for myself, while paying homage to this beloved masterpiece and sharing it with a wider audience.

Major Characters

THE LINS

LIN DAIYU, the daughter of an official in Suzhou

JIA MIN, her mother

LIN RUHAI, her father

THE JIAS

JIA BAOYU, pampered heir of the Jia family in the Capital, cousin of Daiyu

JIA ZHENG, his father

LADY JIA, his grandmother

JIA ZHU, Baoyu’s older brother, dead at the beginning of the novel

JIA LIAN, Baoyu’s cousin

JIA HUAN, Baoyu’s half brother

WANG XIFENG (pronounced “Shee-feng”), Jia Lian’s wife

PING’ER, Wang Xifeng’s body servant

“THE TWO SPRINGS”: JIA TANCHUN, Baoyu’s half sister, and JIA XICHUN (pronounced “Shee-chun”), Baoyu’s cousin

JIA YUCUN, a rising official and distant relative of the Jia family

THE XUES

MRS. XUE (pronounced “Shreh”), a widowed sister-in-law of Jia Zheng’s, living with the Jias

XUE BAOCHAI, her daugher

XUE PAN, her profligate son

XIA JINGUI (pronounced “Shah Jin-gway”), wife of Xue Pan

THE ZHENS

SNOWGOOSE, Lady Jia’s body servant

ZHEN SHIYIN, her brother, a blacksmith

PART ONE
Fifth Month, 1721

In the Garden of the Five Senses

Let Delight know no bounds.

Inscription on a tablet in the garden
at Rongguo Mansion

1

Lin Daiyu crushes apricot kernels and black sesame seeds in a marble mortar. She scrapes the medicine into a bowl of stewed bird’s nests and stirs it with a porcelain spoon. She brings the bowl to her mother’s bed near the window. Propped against her bolsters, Daiyu’s mother sips the dose, grimacing a little. Daiyu watches every mouthful, as if by her vigilance she can somehow will the medicine to work.

Mrs. Lin lies back, exhausted even by the act of drinking. “Daiyu,” she says, her voice a reedy thread.

“Yes?”

“I want to show you something.”

“What is it?”

“Go and look in the bottom of my old trunk.”

Daiyu kneels before the wardrobe and opens the battered chest where the family keeps their winter clothes. She rummages beneath the piles of bulky padded trousers and quilted jackets, and finds a flat bundle in a crimson brocade wrapping cloth.

“Yes, that’s it. Bring it here.”

Her mother’s thin fingers struggle with the knot, and Daiyu leans over to help. Inside are two flat boxes. Mrs. Lin opens one to reveal a necklace of reddish gold in the form of a coiling dragon. In the other is a tiara of flying golden phoenixes, a string of pearls arching from each beak.

“These are from your dowry, aren’t they?”

Mrs. Lin does not seem to hear the question. “Help me up,” she says.

Daiyu climbs onto the bed and adjusts the pillows so that her mother is sitting upright. Her mother places the tiara on her uncombed hair. “Bring me a mirror.”

Reluctantly, Daiyu gets the one on the dressing table. Leaning against the cushions, her mother tilts the tiny bronze hand-mirror back and forth, catching little glimpses of herself on the polished surface. “What a fine young lady I was back then, looking down my nose at everything. Why, I’d never even touched, let alone worn, silks like these, made by
common weavers.” Her fingers pluck at the worn honey-colored material of her robe. “Everything we wore was made in the Palace by the Imperial Weavers. Even our maids didn’t wear such stuff!”

BOOK: The Red Chamber
10.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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