Based on the greatest of all Imperial Chinese novels, this isn’t a simple translation. It turns the focus to the inner lives of three young women caught in the dynastic soap opera.
The excesses of Imperial China frame this elegant story of shifting fortunes, power struggles, palace intrigue, betrayal, and love. Though the novel is loosely based on Cao Xuequin’s Dream of the Red Chamber—a Chinese literary masterpiece of 2,500 pages and 400-some characters—writer Pauline Chen admits she “makes little attempt to remain faithful to the original plot.”
Instead, The Red Chamber turns its focus to the inner lives of three young women in the Jia family: unflappable daughter-in-law Wang Xifeng, who runs the household with exceeding competence; obedient, rational Baochai, who (despite a romantic streak) is ever mindful of family hierarchies; and free-spirited Lin Daiyu, the long-lost cousin who, after becoming an orphan, is thrust into the middle of her extended relatives’ in-fighting and familial politics.
Lin Daiyu is the Cinderella figure in this intricate dynastic soap opera. She is the beautiful, perceptive outsider, unschooled in Beijing’s high-society ways. Her emotional honesty and fearlessness set her apart from her cousins, but they also come at the cost of her security. The Red Chamber takes a long hard look at the complex interconnected desires, ambitions, and conventions that can bind a family together—or tear it apart.