Authors: Pauline A. Chen
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #Cultural Heritage, #Sagas
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.
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.
“This is a Borzoi book.”
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
Spring Dream in the Still of the Palace
, by Jiang Guofang
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
6 OCTOBER 1939, TAIPEI, TAIWAN
10 JUNE 2008, PORT JEFFERSON, NEW YORK
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.
LIN DAIYU, the daughter of an official in Suzhou
JIA MIN, her mother
LIN RUHAI, her father
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
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
SNOWGOOSE, Lady Jia’s body servant
ZHEN SHIYIN, her brother, a blacksmith
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
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.
“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!”