Red Poppies
278 pages

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278 pages

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This suspenseful saga of Tibet during the rise of Chinese Communism “conjures up a faraway world . . . panoramic and intimate at the same time” (Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times).

A lively and cinematic twentieth-century epic, Red Poppies focuses on the extravagant and brutal reign of a clan of Tibetan warlords during the rise of Chinese Communism. The story is wryly narrated by the chieftain’s son, a self-professed “idiot” who reveals the bloody feuds, seductions, secrets, and scheming behind his family’s struggles for power. When the chieftain agrees to grow opium poppies with seeds supplied by the Chinese Nationalists in exchange for modern weapons, he draws Tibet into the opium trade—and unwittingly plants the seeds for a downfall. A “swashbuckling novel,” Red Poppies is at once a political parable and a moving elegy to the lost kingdom of Tibet in all its cruelty, beauty, and romance (The New York Times Book Review).



Publié par
Date de parution 06 mai 2003
Nombre de lectures 1
EAN13 9780547347141
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0075€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.


Title Page
Translators’ Note
Part I
Wild Thrushes
Sangye Dolma
Honored Guest
Part II
Flowers in the Heart
The Earth Trembles
Part III
White Dreams
The New Sect Gelukpa
Part IV
Missed Cure
Flowering Ears
War of the Poppies
Part V
What Should I Fear?
The Smart One and the Idiot
The English Lady
Part VI
Female Chieftain
Part VII
Fate and Love
It’s Happening
New Subjects
Border Market
News from the South
Family Feud
Going Home
Part IX
I’m Not Talking
Part X
The Killer
Looking Northward
Guest from Afar
Fast and Slow
Part XI
About the Future
They’re Getting Old
The Chieftains
Part XII
Colored People
Artillery Fire
The Dust Settles
First Mariner Books edition 2003
Copyright © 1998 by Alai Translation copyright © 2002 by Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-Chun Lin All rights reserved

For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to or to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 3 Park Avenue, 19th Floor, New York, New York 10016.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Alai, date [Chen ai lou ding. English] Red poppies / Alai ; translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-chun Lin. p. cm. ISBN 0-618-11964-7 ISBN 0-618-34069-6 (pbk.) I. Title. pl2844.a5 c4813 2002 895.1'352—dc21 2001039530

e ISBN 978-0-547-34714-1 v2.1017
Translators’ Note
ALAI WAS BORN in a tiny hamlet in Maerkang County, in what is now western Sichuan. At the time of the story, however, his hometown was located in the northeastern part of the Tibetan autonomous region. Settled centuries earlier by Tibetan nomads, the region’s power and legitimacy came largely from the Chinese to the east, who ennobled the strongest and richest families. Religious ties to the Buddhist centers of Lhasa and Shigatse to the west were tenuous at best; political ties were equally difficult, with encroachments from all directions always a threat. During the War of Resistance against Japan (1937–1945), Tibet was spared from fighting the foreign aggressors, although power struggles among the various clans and chieftains continued. At the conclusion of the Chinese civil war (1945–1949), territorial lines were redrawn, autonomy for all of Tibet was lost, and the age of chieftains came to an end.
In the 1980s, Alai published a story about a legendary wise man, Aku Tonpa, who, in the author’s words, “represents the Tibetans’ aspirations and oral traditions.” But rather than focus on the sagacity so often extolled by others, he “preferred the wisdom masked by stupidity.” A decade later, Aku Tonpa would become the model for the narrator in Red Poppies. Alai has written that “the intelligence of Aku Tonpa epitomizes raw and uncultured folk wisdom.”
Alai writes in Chinese. We are grateful to Tseten Dolkar of Radio Free Asia for supplying Tibetan spellings of the names and places in this novel.
Part I
Wild Thrushes
I T SNOWED that morning. I was in bed when I heard wild thrushes singing outside my window.
Mother was washing up in a brass basin, panting softly as she immersed her fair, slender hands in warm milk, as if keeping them lovely were a wearisome chore. She flicked her finger against the edge of the basin, sending tiny ripples skittering across the surface of the milk and a loud rap echoing through the room.
Then she sent for the maid, Sangye Dolma.
Acknowledging the summons, Sangye Dolma walked in carrying another brass basin. She placed the milk basin on the floor, and Mother called out softly, “Come here, Dordor.”
A puppy yelped its way out from under a cupboard. It rolled around on the floor and wagged its tail at its mistress before burying its head in the basin and lapping up the milk, nearly choking on it. The chieftain’s wife, that is, my mother, loved the sound of someone choking on the little bit of love she dispensed. Amid the noise of the puppy greedily lapping up the milk, she rinsed her hands in fresh water and told Dolma to check on me, to see if I was awake. I’d had a low-grade fever the day before, so Mother had slept in my room.
“Ah-ma,” I said, “I’m awake.”
She came up and felt my forehead with her wet hand. “The fever’s gone,” she said.
Then she left my bedside to examine her fair hands, which could no longer hide the signs of aging. She inspected them every time she completed her morning grooming. Now that she’d finished, she scrutinized those hands, which were looking older by the day, and waited to hear the sound of the maid dumping the water onto the ground. This waiting was always accompanied by fearful anxiety. The cascading water splashing on the flagstones four stories below made her quaver, since it produced the shuddering sensation of a body splattering on the hard ground.
But today, a thick blanket of snow swallowed up the sound.
Still, she shuddered at the moment that the splash should have sounded, and I heard a soft muttering from Dolma’s lovely mouth: “It’s not the mistress hitting the ground.”
“What did you say?” I asked.
Mother asked me, “What did the little tramp say?”
“She said she has a bellyache.”
“Do you really?” Mother asked her.
I answered for her. “It’s okay now.”
Mother opened a jar and scooped out a dab of lotion with her pinkie to rub on the back of her hand. Then another pinkie brought out lotion for the other hand. A spicy, pungent odor spread through the room. The lotion was made of marmot oil and lard, mixed with mysterious Indian aromatic oils presented to her by the monastery. The chieftain’s wife had a natural talent for looking disgusted. She displayed one of those looks now, and said, “This stuff actually smells terrible.”
Sangye Dolma offered up an exquisite box containing a jade bracelet for her mistress’s left arm and an ivory bracelet for the right. Mother put on the bracelets and twirled them around her wrists. “I’ve lost more weight.”
The maid said, “Yes.”
“Is that all you know how to say?”
“Yes, Mistress.”
I assumed the chieftain’s wife would slap her, as others might do, but she didn’t. Still, fear turned the maid’s face red.
After the chieftain’s wife started downstairs for breakfast, Dolma stood by my bed and listened to the descending steps of her mistress. Then she stuck her hand under my bedding and pinched me savagely. “When did I say I had a bellyache? When did I ever have one of those?”
“You didn’t,” I said. “But you’d like to fling the water with even more force next time.”
That stopped her. I puffed up my cheek, which meant she had to kiss me. “Don’t you dare tell the mistress,” she said, as my hands slipped under her clothes and grabbed her breasts, a pair of frightened little rabbits. A passionate quiver erupted somewhere deep inside me, or maybe only in my head. Dolma freed herself from my hands and repeated, “Don’t you dare tell the mistress.”
That morning, for the first time in my life, I experienced the tantalizing sensation of pleasure from a woman’s body.
Sangye Dolma cursed, “Idiot!”
Rubbing my sleepy eyes, I asked her, “Tell me the truth, who’s the real id-idiot?”
“I mean it, a perfect idiot.”
Then, without helping me dress, she walked off after giving me a nice red welt on my arm, like a bird’s peck. The pain was absolutely new and electrifying.
Snow sparkled brightly outside the window, where the family servants brats were whooping it up, throwing rocks at thrushes. But I was still in bed, wrapped snugly in a bearskin quilt and layers of silk, listening to the maid’s footsteps echo down the long hallway. Apparently, she had no intention of coming back to wait on me, so I kicked off the quilt and screamed.
Within the territory governed by Chieftain Maichi, everybody knew that the son born to the chieftain’s second woman was an idiot.
That idiot was me.
Except for my mother, just about everybody liked me the way I was. If I’d been born smart, I might have long since departed this world for the Yellow Springs instead of sitting here and thinking wild thoughts over a cup of tea. The chieftain’s first wife had taken ill and died. My mother was bought by a fur and medicinal herb merchant as a gift to the chieftain, who got drunk and then got her pregnant. So I might as well be happy going through life as an idiot.
Still, within the vast area of our estate, there wasn’t a single person who didn’t know me. That’s because I was the chieftain’s son. If you don’t believe me, become a slave or the brilliant son of a commoner and see if people know who you are.
I am an idiot.
My father was a chieft

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