Monday, August 06, 2012

Alternate opening lines: "The Red Chamber"

Pauline A. Chen's novel, The Red Chamber, is a reimagining of the Chinese classic Dream of the Red Chamber. In Chen's debut, set against the breathtaking backdrop of eighteenth-century Beijing, the lives of three unforgettable women collide in the inner chambers of the Jia mansion. Here she shares some insights into an alternate first line of the novel:
Originally, the opening lines for The Red Chamber were:
When Lin Daiyu came north to live with her rich Jia relations, she carried all that she owned in two small trunks. She had some cotton robes and trousers, some slightly outgrown underwear, a couple of padded jackets, a tortoise-shell comb, and a three-quarter sized zither that her father had had made for her by a music master of some local renown.
I still like this opening very much, because it concisely evokes Daiyu’s modest background (by contrast to the Jias), the fact that her wardrobe has been neglected because of her mother’s illness, and the fact that her family, though poor, is highly cultured. However, I ended up beginning with a scene of Daiyu nursing her mother (“Lin Daiyu crushes apricot kernels and black sesame seeds in a marble mortar.”) because I wanted to show more of Daiyu’s relationship with her mother, which is a key strand in the book.
Learn more about the book and author at Pauline A. Chen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue