Book note: Wang Ping spans cultural chasm with “Last Communist Virgin”


Coffee House Press, based in Minneapolis, has an enviable track record for being a publisher where quality holds sway. May not sound all that remarkable on the face of it, but look at just how much inanity and vapidity makes it to market these days. CHP authors include the likes of iconic novelist John A. Williams (Clifford’s Blues), celebrated poet Patricia Smith (Teahouse of the Almighty), award-winning essayist Clarence Major (Necessary Distance), and more. The idea, says the Coffee House Press Web site, is to “[produce] books that present the dreams and ambitions of people who have been underrepresented in published literature, books that shape our national consciousness while strengthening a larger sense of community.” Accordingly, presented for your consideration is The Last Communist Virgin, a collection of stories by Minnesota Book Award winner Wang Ping.

The Last Communist Virgin, a collection of short stories by Wang Ping. Published by Coffee House Press (2007). $14.95.

To span the cultural chasm between China and the U.S., Wang Ping invokes a universal premise: lives unsettled by change and souls determined to find harmony in an unstable world. By no means a dilettante, Ping takes a look at love, sex, honor, and pride—all of which have been known to raise pure hell in people’s lives. For her settings the author chooses the landscapes and social climes of Beijing, New York City, and an environment way off the beaten track: rural Chinese communities increasingly fractured by a focus on industrialization. Frankly, that last setting is most enlightening for those of us who know absolutely nothing about rural China except what we saw on the news reports about last month’s earthquake.

Wang Ping, born in Shanghai, grew up on a small island in the East China Sea and eventually attended Beijing University before getting her doctorate at New York University. So she obviously knows whereof she writes in creating these tales. An accomplished hand, she authored the short fiction collection American Visa, the novel Foreign Devil, and two poetry collections: Of Flesh & Spirit and The Magic Whip.

Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.