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.
Peach Blossom Paradise is, ostensibly, a historical novel ... Still, the novel lacks some of the conventional trappings of the genre. Its voice is slippery and jagged. It musters neither outrage nor sympathy. And its examinations of its subjects—namely, progress, revolution, and the possibility of assembling an account of the past—lead to no obvious conclusions, no tidy morals ... the book’s uneven character and gently destabilizing elements, such as footnotes sprinkled throughout it by a fictional present-day commentator, show an experimentalist’s sensitivity to a reality that can feel unstuck, a time somehow discontinuous ... Peach Blossom Paradise is bloody, sad, invigorating, and inconclusive. It doesn’t tell you what to think about the engines of history; it suggests that an arithmetic that allows you to assess change as 'good' or 'bad' may be unreliable. The novel’s partial knowledge reproduces the feeling of being a subject of history. Which returns us to the matter of form: Ge Fei’s experimentation with breaking the certitudes of narrative have taught him to find beauty and pleasure in the experience of unknowing, being an eye open, capable of registering even the subtlest signs of change, yet unable to see, just yet, what they mean
...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?