Synopses & Reviews
Five Spice Street tells the story of a street in an unnamed city whose inhabitants speculate on the life of a mysterious Madam X. The novel interweaves their endless suppositions into a work that is at once political parable and surreal fantasia. Some think X is 50 years old; others that she is 22. Some believe she has occult powers and has thereby enslaved the young men of the street; others think she is a clever trickster playing mind games with the common people. Who is Madam X? How has she brought the good people of Five Spice Street to their knees either in worship or in exasperation? The unknown narrator takes no sides in the endless interplay of visions, arguments, and opinions. The investigation rages, as the street becomes a Walpurgisnacht of speculations, fantasies, and prejudices. Madam X is a vehicle whereby the people bare their souls, through whom they reveal themselves even as they try to penetrate the mystery of her extraordinary powers.
Five Spice Street is one of the most astonishing novels of the past twenty years. Exploring the collective consciousness of this little street of ordinary people, Can Xue penetrates the deepest existential anxieties of the present daywhether in China or in the Westwhere the inevitable impermanence of identity struggles with the narrative within which identity must compose itself.
"The inhabitants of Five Spice Street gossip, spy and seduce one another in this lovely surrealist romp. At the center of the drama is Madame X, a mysterious figure who has a strange hold on her neighbors' imaginations. She could be anywhere from 22 to 50 years old, according to her neighbors, and 'her notions were deeply at odds with the traditions of Five Spice Street.' Much of the fascination comes from her affair with Mr. Q. Meanwhile, a figure known only as 'the widow' spends her time protecting the neighborhood from Madame X and Mr. Q by reading their letters, investigating their rooms and making bold, if unsubstantiated, claims about their character. The translators do a marvelous job of preserving the prose's lyricism, which enhances the surreal scenes that seem to be the stuff of everyday life on Five Spice Street. Xue's stridently weird and vainglorious characters are quite a bizarre retinue, and the air of paranoia and mystery is perfectly captured." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[Xue] blends surrealism à la Dali with a hefty dose of existential angst. Prickly and provocative, Five Spice Street poses penetrating questions about the search for identity and the definition of self."—Booklist
"Can Xue's novel approach to writing fiction in Five Spice Street offers the reader a delightful puzzle whose pieces constantly change shape and shatter into ever smaller fragments."—John Madera, Bookslut John Madera
"The inhabitants of Five Spice Street gossip, spy and seduce one another in this lovely surrealist romp. . . . The translators do a marvelous job of preserving the prose's lyricism, which enhances the surreal scenes that seem to be the stuff of everyday life on Five Spice Street. Xue's stridently weird and vainglorious characters are quite a bizarre retinue, and the air of paranoia and mystery is perfectly captured."—Publishers Weekly Bookslut
“There’s no other writer in China like Can Xue . . . strange, surreal, and very compelling . . . [and] this novel is probably the best place to start.”—Chad Post, Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Can Xue, meaning "dirty snow, leftover snow," is the pseudonym of Deng Xiaohua (b.1953), author of many novels and short works of fiction in Chinese. Her publications in English include Dialogues in Paradise (short stories), Old Floating Cloud (two novellas), The Embroidered Shoes (short stories), and most recently Blue Light in the Sky and Other Stories. Formerly a tailor, Can Xue began to write fiction in 1983, publishing her first works in 1985. She lives in Beijing.