The novel, the first volume of Mr. Ge’s Jiangnan Trilogy, takes place at the start of the 20th century during the lawless final years of the Qing Dynasty, and although the Xinhai Revolution and the establishment of the Republic of China provide it backdrop, this sinuous, captivating epic is less interested in textbook history than in the madness and illusions that underwrite it ... Peach Blossom Paradise—it was originally published in 2004—has the crowded cast, the close attention to setting and the dramatic twists of traditional historical fiction, yet its fixation with dreams, disguises and delusions gives it the feeling of an otherworldly fable ... the narrative sustains its mysterious atmosphere by occupying the points of view of children.
...a coming-of-age story, a captivating blend of history and mythology, and a lyrical study of society and politics during the turn of 20th century China ... Interweaving history within the narrative, these annotations offer insight into 'significant places and people with information about their life and fate within the whirlwind of twentieth-century Chinese history,' as well as blur what we consider fact or fiction. For Fei, the mythological and the historical are fluid, and the expanse of time can be as languid as honey or as fast as a sudden hailstorm. These cities and individuals existed and many of the events occurred, but there’s a constant shifting of ground in determining what is rooted in fact and what is pure imagination. Yet isn’t all history suspect, depending upon who writes it?
What power do individuals have to turn the wheels of change? In the view of Chinese author Ge Fei, whose work has just begun to trickle into English translation, the answer is resoundingly bleak ... while allusions to obscure real-life figures and to classical literature make the book a denser, less immediately accessible experience than The Invisibility Cloak , it doesn’t take much expertise to lose yourself in Ge Fei’s sinuous storytelling. There’s certainly no shortage of intrigue and atmosphere ... While the plotlines are too elaborate to summarize here, they elegantly track the movements of a large and vibrant cast of characters ... It’s because of the care the author lavishes on such physical details that, even in our perplexity, we do emerge from the book with the sensation of having returned from somewhere real, with memories as clear as still water.