Lesley Duncan, United Kingdom, The Herald - SHANGHAI RECALLED IN FACT AND FICTION
The two central characters, Mu Shiying and Qiu Peipei, were real people (their wedding photograph, in western dress, is in Mu’s Wikipedia entry). Mu had achieved literary and social celebrity through his “modernist” short stories, but little is known about his wife Qiu Peipei other than that she was a dance hostess. Margaret Blair brings the two to novel life.
They tell their story in alternating sections of the text. Mu’s are marked by the image of a pink rosebud, which was his trademark as he danced his immaculate foxtrot to American popular songs at the Moon Palace and other fashionable night spots. Handsome and arrogant, he had a burning belief in the right of the creative artist to express himself unhindered by external pressures, political or other. That, in a disintegrating China where Chiang Kai-shek’s forces vied with Mao Tse-tung’s Communists, and the Japanese threat loomed over all, was a dangerous - and eventually fatal - ideal.
Qiu Peipei is sympathetically drawn. A cultured Cantonese girl, destined to take over the family business, she was forced to become a courtesan when her debt-ridden father died. To Mu, she represents the modern (modeng) woman, a second muse to rival that of Shanghai itself.