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The Red Chamber

3.88  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,165 Ratings  ·  198 Reviews
In this lyrical reimagining of the Chinese classic Dream of the Red Chamber, set against the breathtaking backdrop of eighteenth-century Beijing, the lives of three unforgettable women collide in the inner chambers of the Jia mansion. When orphaned Daiyu leaves her home in the provinces to take shelter with her cousins in the Capital, she is drawn into a world of opulent s ...more
Hardcover, 386 pages
Published July 10th 2012 by Knopf (first published 2012)
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Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa SeeThe Good Earth by Pearl S. BuckGenghis by Conn IgguldenThe Red Chamber by Pauline A. ChenThe Last Empress by Anchee Min
History through Novels: Pre-1900s China
4th out of 41 books — 39 voters
Jumping Ship by Janice  RossShanghai Girls by Lisa SeeGeisha, a Life by Mineko IwasakiThe Long Song by Andrea LevyAll the Flowers in Shanghai by Duncan Jepson
Girls In Dresses (poc)
12th out of 81 books — 26 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jessie  (Ageless Pages Reviews)
Read This Review & More Like It On My Blog!

4.5 out of 5

After a bit of a slow start that was almost soap operatic in nature due to the sheer amount of secrets, lies, betrayals and affairs abounding, The Red Chamber impressed me with its scope and tragedy. Though I had anticipated an impending Tragedy with overtones of Old Timey Romantical Problems, this novel is far more than just love-triangles in powerful family. Based on one of China's Four Great Classical Novels, the 18th-century The Drea
Jan 24, 2016 Kavita rated it liked it
This is a retelling of the Chinese classic Dream of the Red Chamber, but I don't know whether Chen does a good job with it or not because I have not yet read the original. But it's certainly something to which I look forward. So, this book follows the ups and downs in the lives of a rich, aristocratic family in China. A Chinese Downton Abbey, so to speak. There is Baoyu, who is the heir to the family, the love of his live, Daiyu, and the girl he would marry, Baochai. The novel works its way thro ...more
Christina Dudley
Aug 14, 2012 Christina Dudley rated it really liked it
Reading THE RED CHAMBER reminded me of visiting my paternal grandmother, who was forever watching Chinese soap operas with elaborately-costumed and highly made-up players who cried and fought and made pronouncements to dramatic camera angles and music. Whenever we asked what was happening, it was always something over the top. An affair. A secret disclosed. Unknown relations revealed. She was hooked. And though we couldn't follow a word, my sister and I would end up staring at the TV right along ...more
Jan 27, 2013 Megan rated it liked it
Holy anachronisms, Batman. This hugely entertaining, if not particularly well-written reimagining of Cao Xueqin's 18th century classic, is full of clunky phrases like "Pan had killed someone. Could he actually escape scot-free?" (it must be noted that "scot-free" shows up not once but TWICE. Does Knopf not hire editors or what?) and hilariously unsubtle observations like "She feels oppressed by the weight of being the perfect daughter". At one point, the phrase "adieu" is used in a riddle, and w ...more
Sep 13, 2012 Snort rated it it was ok
I had a few youthful fantasies, of which being an inscrutable Oriental (achieved with jasmine scented face powder and almond oil, as we learn) and a romantic death from consumption featured quite heavily. This was due to extravagant imaginings of the frail, waif-like Lin Daiyu, not so much fair as she is pale, like a bruised gardenia laid to rest. Truth be said, I have always been drawn to "The Dream of the Red Chamber" (or better known in Mandarin as "Hong Lou Meng"), for our willowy high schoo ...more
Jul 10, 2012 Betty rated it really liked it
The Red Chamber is based on the 18th century China's classic novel, "Dreams of the Red Chamber." Author, Pauline Chen has taken some of the original characters from the book to weave an intriguing tale of life in the opulent women's quarters of a privileged Beijing family of that era. The story follows the lives of three strong women who forge a friendship in a world where they are at the mercy, not only of their husbands, but their older female relatives as well.

For anyone wishing to understand
Rebecca Huston
This condensation and adaption of Cao Xuequin's The Story of the Stone or the Dream of the Red Chamber is actually much better than I thought it would be. Set in eighteenth century China, poor cousin Daiyu arrives at the Jia family home in Beijing and a series of events are set up, chronicling the apogee and downfall of the Jias. What I liked the best is that the author was able to make these people from another time and place very accessable. Recommended for those who like exotic settings, or s ...more
Jo Anne B
Aug 13, 2012 Jo Anne B rated it really liked it
I wish there were more books like this because I would read them all day long. I absolutely loved this book. You really got to know the characters inside and out. I always look forward to reading about the ancient Chinese. Such a fascinating culture. The theme of course centered around what choices a woman in China in the 1700s had. Very heart wrenching and enlightening.
Sep 10, 2012 Steve rated it really liked it
I once tried reading an English translation of the Chinese classic, Dream of the Red Chamber.
Even though I had studied the Chinese language quite a bit, it was too much for me. With more than 2500 pages, over 400 characters, intricate plots within plots, and a plethora of unfamiliar Chinese place names; it was just too confusing.

This "reimagining "of the story in English is accessible. Although the author is obviously an incredible scholar, it's also her first novel. As such, I don't think it's
Lauren Murphy
Oct 01, 2012 Lauren Murphy rated it it was amazing
The Red Chamber is an exceptionally written family drama that spans from 1721- 1736 in Beijing that explores the undercurrents of love, loss, self-gratification, betrayal and hope of those who reside in the Jia estate. Inspired by the original Chinese classic Dream of the Red Chamber, Chen brings to life the strong women in the household during a time where women were severely oppressed. Marriages were arranged by the parents; women were not encouraged to have an education and must never lose fa ...more
If you don't have time for the classic this novel is based on (it has over 1000 pages and 400 characters!), then this may be a good alternative in the mean time. The story is condensed and an experienced reader with soon notice where the cuts begin, but it does offer a good and engrosing story to enjoy. Despite my gripes, it is a good novel and I can easily give it 3.5 stars.

This novels offers us a glimpse into this rich world of Qing China. The author gives us just the right amount of descript
Wendy Hines
Jul 07, 2013 Wendy Hines rated it really liked it

The Red Chamber is a grandiose piece of literature. A famous Chinese story, Dream of the Red Chamber, retold, Pauline Chen takes the reader into a world unlike any other. The novel is slow going, as the reader is introduced to the many characters and at times, it's hard to keep everyone straight. I had to write names down on an index card so that I could easily move it nearby as I read, but there is a family tree at the beginning of the book.

The Red Chamber follows three women in a world whose
Sep 15, 2012 Amy rated it really liked it
Downton Abbey set in Beijing in the early 1700s. Our perspective on the privileged Jia family comes mostly through three women:

--Daiyu is the cousin who comes up from beautiful Suzhou after her mother dies;
--Baochai is insecure about her looks and her position, especially because her brother causes trouble; and
--Xifeng is the oldest daughter-in-law, working non-stop to keep the family going.

When the Jia family ends up on the wrong side of political change, the women's fortunes change dramati
Dec 06, 2012 Jeanette rated it really liked it
After reading the Intro I put off reading this book, as I thought it was going to be a difficult read- rather like the Russians since it is based on the 18th Century Chinese Classic and also within structures and sensibilities/mores very different than the West.

But it was a quick, clean and easy read. This had DRAMA. Short, direct words convey precise nuance. It takes place primarily within a closed environment of a wealthy home of one of the Emperor's ministers. 150-200 people live in this hou
Dec 13, 2015 Christine rated it liked it
I was stuck in the beginning for such a long time, I thought that I was going to end up giving up on this book. Next thing I know, I'm halfway through and it's time for me to go to bed. Do I actually sleep? Not a chance. I found that I couldn't stop reading because I really wanted to know what was going to happen next (though I didn't particularly love any of the characters; I was rather fond of Snowgoose though). It takes a while to get to that point though.

Definitely good for entertainment if
Sep 15, 2014 Briansmom rated it it was amazing
I really, really liked this book. I would have given it 4.5 stars if possible. I didn't love it like I loved "Molokai," but it was a winner. The characters seemed real to me (except for poor doomed Daiyu, who was a bit cardboard), and their thoughts, motivations, and personalities struck me as authentically Chinese. Did I love everyone in this book? No, of course not. Did I wish some relationships had turned out differently? Yes, of course. But everyone in the book stayed true to their character ...more
Mar 26, 2016 Kyc rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Rudi Bracaglia
Jun 20, 2014 Rudi Bracaglia rated it liked it
I agree with the sentiment that I felt outright contempt for the majority of the characters. The pettiness and cruelty I know that must have been a component to the Chinese aristocracy where everyone must compete with everyone else in the name of prestige and honor I think was exaggerated to the point where I connected really only with Uncle Zheng, Snowgoose, and Daiyu.

Lady Jia, the Gorgon who tormented and abused everyone for her own purposes, was the obvious evil one of the group, giving me a
May 14, 2013 Meghan rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this novel. I love the Chinese culture, and have read several books on many different time periods of her history. This one is 18th century if I remember correctly. It follows the lives of three women whose destinies seem to collide. I personally found the book quite sad and tragic, but still rich and beautiful. I highly recommend The Red Chamber, which is based on an ancient Chinese text.
Patty Mar
Feb 02, 2015 Patty Mar rated it really liked it
At times, I found the story tedious but it was interesting in terms of the lives of an aristocratic family in Beijing during the eighteenth century; one of the main characters in the story is dependent on the favor of the Court. It gives incredible detail about the fate of women at that time and the caste system in China. Touches extensively on how important male children are and how, if you are female, your role in the family is determined by whom you are married to and whether or not you have ...more
Feb 18, 2014 Chase rated it really liked it
After buying this book I brought it into the office to the exclamations of "Oh my god, you're going to read that!?", from my Chinese colleagues. Thankfully this retelling isn't as laborious as I'm told the original is and I found myself getting swept up by the lives of the women portrayed in this book, egging each of them on in my own way.

This book did start out slow, but only because I was expecting the intrigue and grandiosity of the original. At first I was disappointed, but I came to like th
Feb 24, 2014 Angigames rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Con abile maestria Pauline Chen ci riporta nella Cina del 1721 quando nascere in una famiglia benestante significava non avere alcuna possibilità di scelta.
Questo libro è tratto dal romanzo “Il sogno della camera rossa” del XVIII secolo di Cao Xueqin e considerato l’opera letteraria più importante della storia cinese, la Chen ha semplificato la storia –eliminando alcuni personaggi- e concentrato la narrazione sulle vicende della famiglia Jia e sulle vite di tre fantastiche donne: Daiyu, ragazza
Melody M
Jan 08, 2014 Melody M rated it really liked it
This was a pretty fun read. I finished it in a day. I usually don't like reading books with multiple perspectives but I actually enjoyed reading each of the characters' perspectives. They were human and relatable. I definitely liked Daiyu best since she was outspoken.

I'm not familiar with the original Dream of the Red Chamber, but when I mentioned it to my mom and aunt, they recognized it immediately. It was fun talking about this book and comparing it to something that my mom grew up with. I h
Hui Yao
May 09, 2014 Hui Yao rated it it was amazing
A matchless classic in Chinese history, also my favorite book. I haven't tried out the English version, but I've roughly read the Chinese version, and I've watched the drama related. What I wanna say is this is really a hard book, even for me- a Chinese. I have to do some research work on the internet to have a better understanding of the spirits, so it would be extremely difficult for those who know little about traditional Chinese culture- really, a lot of information involved!

Anyway, I highly
May 12, 2014 Marci rated it liked it
Shelves: library
Strange to get into due to the writing itself... Sometimes past, sometimes present, I kinda felt the author didn't know which she was writing in, and the grammatical side of me was twitching. Yet, when I actually got further into the story it was a bit better.
The ending is sad tho, was melancholic the rest of the day cos of it. I mean, I wasn't looking for a happy ending, but to just 'kill' off the main character halfway in the book and then twist it at the end is just... Sad. Especial
Aug 08, 2012 Piritta rated it liked it

The Bold and the beautiful of 18th century Beijing.
Luna Shen
Jan 15, 2014 Luna Shen rated it really liked it
The ending that she made up was sort of weak. But I absolutely loved that park where she works on her loom because it's the first time she has had time to work on it herself, and then she opens the window to let the moth go. I'm sure there's some deep symbolism there; maybe it's an allusion to some other culture in which moths represent something, but I don't care. The image that came to my mind and the sensations that it evoked were so beautiful.SO SO BEAUTIFUL. I felt so bad for her too-- the ...more
Elise Alexander
Jun 02, 2015 Elise Alexander rated it it was ok
Shelves: disappointing
I found this a bit disappointing. it was basically a soap opera set in 1700s China. It didn't give a lot of historical background since it was told from the women's point of view and they were pretty clueless about everything except household intrigues.
The original source is missing the end, amd I felt she copped out by miraculously healing someone dying of consumption.
side note...people talk about ancient chinese medicine, but all through this book thry kept prescribing birds nests for every
Patricia C
Jun 08, 2015 Patricia C rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 06, 2012 Cayleigh rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2012
I very much enjoyed The Red Chamber, I have read many many historical fiction books set in England and it was very refreshing to read The Red Chamber set in 18th century China in the women's quarters of a very infulential family. (Even though I haven't read many books of this era, I have seen quite a few movies Raise the Red Lantern and Flowers of Shanghai for a few so knew what type of opulence/surroundings to imagine with the descriptions).
The chapters rotate between several of the main chara
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Pauline A. Chen earned her B.A. in classics from Harvard, her J.D. from Yale Law School, and her Ph.D. in East Asian studies from Princeton. She has taught Chinese language, literature, and film at the University of Minnesota and Oberlin College. She is also the author of a novel for young readers, Peiling and the Chicken-Fried Christmas, and lives in Ohio with her two children.
More about Pauline A. Chen...

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