I wanted to read this one based on its cover, and also the story of the author's grandma's deathbed confession intrigued me. Because of that story, I had assumed Lotus was historical fiction, but it's actually set in the early days of the new millennium (which, I guess to some people might be historical fiction). The beginning was easy enough for me to read but I found the pacing somewhat uneven as the book progressed- Lotus, who is the main character, lives an interesting life with many pitfalls, but some places in the book it seems like her growth as a character slows to a crawl.
Lotus goes to the city in search of fortune, and through misfortune ends up a ji, or a prostitute. She continues the work in order to fund her brother's schooling- her father pulled her out of school before she could graduate, and she wants her little brother to be able to go to college and get a well paying job. Hu Binbing is a photographer disillusioned with the world after he lost his well paying job to scandal. In a way, Hu Binbing actually finds himself more in this book than Lotus ever does, because he isn't forced to make as many difficult decisions as she is.
The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'Inspired by the secret life of the author's grandmother, Lotus follows a young woman as she defies her fate and escapes to the city and all it holds for her—be it love, danger, or destiny.
'Surviving by her wits alone, Lotus charges headlong into the neon lights of Shenzhen, determined to pull herself out of the gutter and decide her own path. She’s different than the other streetwalkers—reserved, even defiant, Lotus holds her secrets behind her red smile.
'The new millennium should’ve brought her better luck, but for now she leads a double life, wiring the money home to her family and claiming she earns her wages waiting tables. Her striking eyes catch the attention of many, but Lotus weighs her options between becoming the concubine of a savvy migrant worker or a professional girlfriend to a rich and powerful playboy. Or she may choose the kind and decent Hu Binbing, a photojournalist reporting on China’s underground sex trade—who has a hidden past of his own. She knows that fortunes can shift with the toss of a coin and, in the end, she may make a choice that leads her on a different journey entirely.
'Written with compassion and vivid prose, Lotus was inspired by the deathbed revelation that the author’s grandmother had been sold to a brothel in her youth. With compelling insight, Lijia Zhang reveals the surprising strength found in those confronted with impossible choices.'
There is a depth of portrayal as far as the culture surrounding the ji in this book goes- there is an unexpected sense of community between Lotus and her fellow ji despite them all being in the same trade, and therefore, in a way, competing against each other. You don't see that as much with this book- it's almost like they have too many customers than too few. Lotus works in a higher end "massage" parlor, and thus has many more protections than she did when she started out.
Through this book, you get a feel for Lotus's entire life, but for that reason I did feel like it dragged its feet a bit. I prefered Lotus in the beginning, when she had some sense of mystery to her, than at the end when it seemed like she had no mystery at all left. She had so many interesting things happen to her that at the end of the book I was surprised when I found myself thinking of her as bland rather than fascinating.
Lotus is not the usual type of book I pick up- nonetheless, I found it both enjoyable and educational. I can see fans of contemporary fiction enjoying this one even more than I did, though. The depth of this work was a little bit too consuming for me. If you're a fan of contemporary fiction and are interested in the lives of those involved in the sex trade, this book may be more your style.
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars for a great contemporary fiction that felt a bit sidetracked by its depth.
Age Advisory: Ages 18+ for the sex trade (and everything that goes with it) as well as violence.
Page Count: 384 pages