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  • Writer's pictureHargun Sachdev

Book review: Shanghai Baby

Updated: Mar 22

A story of love, sex and self-discovery

Shanghai Baby by Zhou Weihui is a contemporary Chinese book which follows the life for Coco, a waitress and a writer in her 20s. It’s set in the 90s in Shanghai and has a first-person female narrative. It’s contemplative, introspective, and nuanced.

Adulting and a sense of nostalgia

I felt a little nostalgic, more like I felt the longing of being 20-something in the 90s. Ironic, since I was barely born in 1997. Old school, new adult coming of age, figuring out yourself. It is that kind of book.

My tears meant nothing. The joys and sorrows of any one person mean nothing because the train’s massive steel wheels never stop spinning. This is the secret that terrifies everyone in the cities in this fucking material age.

And yes, Shanghai Baby has a fair share of millennial angst and fuck capitalism and modern society vibes.

Banned in China

Oh, and this book has been banned in China. Shanghai Baby’s take on life, women, sex, and modern society may have been bold for its time. Especially coming from a young woman.

Feminist fiction

I would also classify Shanghai Baby as feminist fiction because throughout the book it discusses women in modern society and the unfairness of the fundamentals of it all.

When you get down to it, the social system still devalues the needs of women and doesn’t support their efforts to recognize their self-worth. Girls who are street-smart are put down as crude, and those who are gentler are treated like empty-headed flower vessels.

Romance and sex

Okay, so it has its fair set of romance and related themes but they were the least interesting to me. Coco meets this man Tan and all is great but he is impotent (not a spoiler, it’s in the blurb too). So the book also throws light on the different kinds of intimacy and human needs and yes, you guessed it – infidelity.

A chance encounter

I have never heard of this book. I randomly chanced upon it in December 2018 in a second-hand bookshop. I didn’t read it until December 2019. And I didn’t write a review until today.

So, to me all this while, Shanghai Baby seemed like a bookish secret. But I want to share it with you because maybe you will enjoy reading it as much as I did. There is a sequel to it called Marrying Buddha which I have not been able to get my hands on yet. Soon, hopefully!

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