An international literary phenomenon-now available for the first time in English translation-Candy is a hip, harrowing tale of risk and desire, the story of a young Chinese woman forging a life for herself in a world seemingly devoid of guidelines. Hong, who narrates the novel, and whose life in many ways parallels the author''s own, drops out of high school and runs away at age 17 to the frontier city of Shenzen. As Hong navigates the temptations of the city, she quickly falls in love with a young musician and together they dive into a cruel netherworld of alcohol, drugs, and excess, a life that fails to satisfy Hong''s craving for an authentic self, and for a love that will define her. This startling and subversive novel is a blast of sex, drugs, and rock ''n'' roll that opens up to us a modern China we''ve never seen before. – Banned in China -with Mian Mian labeled the ''poster child for spiritual pollution''-CANDY still managed to sell 60,000 copies, as well as countless additional copies in pirated editions. – CANDY has been published in eight countries to date and has become a bestseller in France.
Sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll: ingredients for novels about modern China? Yes, SHANGHAI BABY by Wei Hui (Pocket Books, 2001) showed international readers modern Chinese youth were not immune to the running dogs of Western decadence: Globalization might even include mixing with dissolute foreigners. Following SHANGHAI BABY to English by a few years, Mian Mian now suggests with CANDY the decadence is more likely homegrown, possibly an inevitable side-effect of China's ascension to manufacturing colossus for the world. After this first novel by Shanghainese Mian was banned in China -an "honor" Wei Hui also earned – she was labelled a "poster child for spiritual pollution."
The buzz made CANDY an underground bestseller.
Whether Mian Mian harvested autobiographical details for her protagonist Hong's drug-plagued odyssey is open to question. She prefaces the novel with a note: "This book exists because one morning as the sun was coming up I told myself that I had to swallow up all of the fear and garbage around me, and once it was inside me I had to transform it all into candy. Because I know you all will be able to love me for it."
In a larger context, Hong's story, the characters in her life, often resonate with American stories we've heard of the Old West and Gold Rush days (whether in California or Alaska). She leaves Shanghai to seek her future in the new frontier of the Special Economic Zones the Chinese government created along the south coast in the 1980s, near Guangzhou. Not only did the SEZs permit a laissez faire approach to business-much of the Confucian social rules that apply elsewhere are ignored. In the SEZ thick with fortune seekers and finders, prostitution flourishes, as does alcohol and drug addiction.
Hong, only 17, has dropped out of a competitive high school, somewhat dispirited by the suicide of a classmate (an echo of Murakami's NORWEGIAN WOOD), when she leaves for the south. There she meets a young musician Saining and they become lovers, so often hopeless for each other and so often hopeless for their addictions. They survive, slacker-style, largely by the generosity of Saining's mom, who lives in Japan.
Hong's love for Saining has compelling moments of violence, promiscuity, and druggy indifference. But the greatest achievement of Hong's story, perhaps, is the honest testimony to the erasure of desire, the great sucking away of soul only addiction can wreak on a love that nonetheless won't go away. From a null point, from a Murakami-esque death in life, Hong goes on to find redemption can be hers.This stark portrait is not without lighter moments. For example, Hong's friend Bug is convinced he has AIDS. The horror of that discovery is brought alive. Page after page: consultation with friends, plans to leave the country, examination by a Beijing AIDS specialist. Finally, the revelation too many OTC drugs to get high had caused the troubling symptoms.
Like Murakami's post-consumerist young generation in Japan, Mian Mian suggests the same search for individual authenticity is underway in China. As China 's economic engine gains force, so does disillusionment among the young with the old ways. Hong suggests her ambivalence towards China 's rising star: "The moment the plane left the ground, I fucking burst into tears. I swore I would never come back to this town in the South again. This weird, plastic, bullshit Special Economic Zone, with all that pain and sadness, and the face of love, and the whole totally fucked-up world of heroin, and the late 1980s gold rush mentality, and all that pop music from Taiwan and Hong Kong. This place had all of the best and all of the worst. It had become my eternal nightmare." Hong awakes before the CANDY is gone. Mian's compassion for youth of New China elevates and brings irony to a story lesser writers might have passed off as sensation-ridden heroin chic.