Miss Chopsticks, By Xinran

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The Independent Culture

Xinran's story of three sisters leaving the country to work in the big city reads less like a novel and more like a work of non-fiction that's been brushed with a few novelising strokes. Given their village's fondness for boys, the six girls belonging to Li Zhongguo aren't even considered worthy enough for names, and are known only by their place in the family line.

Sister Three takes the plunge first, escaping an arranged marriage by fleeing to the city, where she begins work in a fast-food restaurant. Then Sister Five (the slow, ugly one) and Sister Six (the bright, pretty one – this is as psychologically complex as it gets), decide to follow her, and work in a health centre and bookshop-cum-cafe respectively. More about the girls themselves, their loves, hates, feelings about it all, would have enriched what is essentially a lecture about Chinese history and culture. Which may be fascinating in itself, but isn't what a novel should be doing.