Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Pg. 69: Oliver August's "Inside the Red Mansion"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Oliver August's Inside the Red Mansion: On the Trail of China's Most Wanted Man.

About the book, from the author's website:
Inside the Red Mansion chronciles a suspenseful and slyly irreverent journey into the heart of the new China

Due to a mix-up, Oliver August stumbles on to the hunt for China's most wanted man. Lai Changxing is an illiterate tycoon and on the run from corruption charges. Sensing something emblematic in his outsized tale of rise and fall, August tries to find the self-made billionaire and understand how he reinvented himself.

Lai embodies the story of China's recent success, as well as its Achilles heel. The blending of its command economy with the free market is riddled with corruption. Moving ever closer to the elusive tycoon, August's introduces us to a people in the midst of head-spinning self-transformation. We meet a nightclub hostess and her gaggle of "Miss Temporaries"; powerful businessmen on a debt settling round of nocturnal golf; and a foie gras king who markets his goose liver by the ton and prefers it deep fried. This is a China seething with desire, engaged in a slap-stick fight with its past, and hell bent on the future.

"Inside the Red Mansion" is the first book to capture the giddy vibe of contemporary China and its darker vulnerabilities.

Among the praise for Inside the Red Mansion:

"August, former Beijing bureau chief for the London Times, crafts a harrowing, super-detailed story of a China exploding with runaway growth yet still trapped in the past and ruled by the ethos of tufei — the classical Mandarin word for bandit. By turns delightfully surprising and slap-across-the-face sobering, August’s yarn centers on his quest to find Lai Changxing, a country boy turned self-made billionaire, thug and China’s most wanted man. August takes him from a private club (where “[f]locks of sequined mermaids waltzed past in merry circles, followed by operatic massifs of rouged Red Guards goose-stepping to ‘The Sound of Music’ ”) and Xiamen, an out-of-control coastal boomtown (with “[a] furious sea of cement and marble, wave upon wave of high-rises rippling out, strips of tarmac submerged at bottomless depths”) to a drab government building in Vancouver, B.C., where Lai was being held on immigration charges. August finally sees Lai not as a freewheeling gangster but as a man diminished — “Nothing about his physical bearing suggested the lyrical countenance of a tragic hero or a human devil...” This must-read, can’t-put-it down tale shows the China only hinted at on the evening news — a place of outsized egos, over-the-top commercial development and shadowy, tradition-bound authoritarian rule.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Oliver August uncovers the story of one of China's biggest and most flamboyant criminals, and in doing so offers a highly enjoyable yet often chilling insight into the underworld gangs that inhabit the dark side of the Chinese economic boom."
--James Kynge, author of China Shakes the World

"In his hunt for China's most wanted man, Oliver August has painted a wry and rollicking portrait of the country's lawless coastal region. Part detective story, part reporter's notebook, Inside the Red Mansion is the first lucid accounting of this emerging superpower's economic, cultural and moral transformation. I loved it."
--Jan Wong, author of Red China Blues

"This book is delightful. Oliver August has managed to be both very funny and very perceptive. Inside the Red Mansion is a picaresque adventure that also provides a look at a part of modern China rarely glimpsed by the outside world."
--James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly

"Oliver August has found an excellent and unusual window through to which to view China, not only in the life and deeds of the super-rogue Lai Changxing but also as a memoir of August's own second life in Xiamen while he was pursuing his first as a reporter in Beijing. It is a compelling read, rich with fascinating details that convey the raw realities of China."
--Bill Emmott, editor of The Economist 1993-2006, author of 20:21 Vision

View a short film about the book, narrated by the author.

After studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford University, Oliver August joined the Times of London and became its youngest-ever New York correspondent. He spent seven years in China as Beijing bureau chief and is now reporting from the Middle East.

Learn more about August's books and journalism at his website, and read an excerpt from Inside the Red Mansion.

The Page 69 Test: Inside the Red Mansion.

--Marshal Zeringue