In the Lap of the Gods
A Novel by Li Miao Lovett
The waves lapped against the shore,
muffling the baby’s cries. As the water advanced, it threatened to swallow the wicker basket resting on a spur of limestone. The river, now a growing lake, crept up the fields inch by inch. Now the ripening ears of wheat disappeared, their spikelets resisting the current before being pulled under.
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A dam rises on the Yangtze, uprooting a million lives, and a poor salvager who has lost everything finds an abandoned baby girl. A tale of defiance, of a lost man finding his place—and a new kind of love—in modern China, and a rich man reclaiming his soul and the woman he loved before the Revolution tore them apart.
"An important, even invaluable book, a moving farewell to the old, more humane way of life as China and all the world become technologized and globalized." --Maxine Hong Kingston
"The effects of modernization and the battle between man and nature are the heavy themes Lovett tackles in this powerful first novel set in modern-day China.... A moving, compelling read about people fighting against both government and nature, which prove equally insurmountable and capricious." --Booklist, starred review
Asian Review of Books
"Coincidentally with the publication of this very cinematic first novel by LI MIAO LOVETT, the Three Gorges Dam in China's Hubei Province reached full capacity with the water level at 575 feet above sea level. This astonishing engineering achievement has been accompanied also by a massive relocation of those people whose homes, villages and cities are now underwater. The human and political consequences of this uprooting in the name of progress are at the heart of this novel. The Chinese character chai, meaning "raze" adorns the front cover and the chapter headings: it is the character spray-painted on houses and buildings slated for demolition throughout China and in some quarters has become a symbol of protest against what some call "modernization" and others see as "eradication". Another contemporary novel which has this symbol at its heart is Ma Jian's Beijing Coma.
IN THE LAP OF THE GODS opens with a very powerful scene in which Liu Renfu braves the encroaching waters of the Yangtze... READ THE ENTIRE REVIEW
"Lovett's evocative novel portrays widower Liu Renfu, a day laborer turned scrounger, caught in the Yangtze dam breach, part of the Chinese government's relocation plan. Liu braves the terrifying waters, alone, after losing his family, searching for items to sell. "The river showed no mercy. It swallowed the landscape in slow, heaving gulps. The surrounding fields had all but disappeared, digested over the course of the day in a pulpy mass." In his search, Liu discovers an abandoned infant and saves the child from drowning. The baby, who he names Rose, becomes his charge, despite Liu's meager circumstances. In his scavenging, Liu also uncovers an item that is precious to Fang Shuping, a successful local businessman whose yearning for the past forces him to confront contemporary injustice, altering his life in the process. Lovett's complex tale of displacement and hardship, contrasting modern China with its past, highlights the human spirit's capacity for renewal."
The Barnes & Noble Review
"The Three Gorges Dam in China, which blocked the flow of the Yangtse River, is the most powerful hydroelectric project ever attempted. The largest feat of engineering in China since The Great Wall, the dam will displace millions of people in some of the most fertile, most beautiful, and most ecologically sensitive land on earth. It's against this maelstrom of extremes that Li Miao Lovett sets In the Lap of the Gods, her ambitious and often moving first novel.
Liu Renfu is a grieving widower engaged in the illegal work of scavenging valuables from homes deserted as the dammed Yangtze river floods the land. On one such foray, he finds an abandoned baby, her basket ready to swirl into the rising current. Liu collects the girl, "A little kitten…left for the river god." Then, as dusk falls and the Yangtze rises, he quickly strips the baby's former home of valuables.
Though Liu plans to sell the abandoned infant, when it's time to hand her over to a middleman in a nearby city, he can't quite give her up. He names her Rose, concocts a cover story for them both, and sets about trying to earn a living.
As Liu searches for love and, yes, meaning in his life, Lovett offers up a compelling, sometimes damning portrait of the Three Rivers project. The author has done her research, and though the prose is occasionally awkward, the details of Chinese life shine through. In the Lap of the Gods is an affecting story of massive change, told in small moments."
International Examiner (the Newspaper of the Northwest Asian American Communities)
“In the Lap of The Gods” is an elegy to the landscape and geography of a region with great rivers. It provides a lyrical ending to those villages Liu scavenges, villages buried in the swollen water of the rivers, by nature and by human planning.... The novel comes with high praises."
The China Beat
Salvaging Memories from the Ruins of the Three Gorges by Daisy Yan Du
The Three Gorges Dam is the largest hydro-electric power station in the world. The construction of the dam began in 1994 and was completed in 2009. Proponents bill it as a symbol of China’s rise on the global stage, while critics worldwide see it as a huge humanitarian crisis that has the potential to worsen in years to come. The biggest controversy of this project concerns the forced migration of around two million people, who, due to the rising water, have been displaced from their hometowns along the upper reaches of the Yangzi River in Chongqing and Sichuan and Hubei provinces. Many novels and films have found fertile topics for exploration in these ongoing drastic social-historical changes, large-scale population movements, and everyday narratives of displacements and loss of homelands.
In the Lap of the Gods (2010), a lyrical novel written by Li Miao Lovett, is set against this complex landscape of disappearances. The novel begins in an evacuated village about to be submerged by the Yangzi River as the water crawls steadily uphill. Nothing but ruins remains. In this deadly quiet ghost village, Liu Renfu, a poor scavenger, is digging in the ruins, collecting the trash and occasional valuables left behind by departed villagers....
The whole novel is fraught with this tension between memory and amnesia. The grand narrative of the forced migration of the Three Gorges Dam is predicated on the rhetoric of forgetting. As the wheels of history relentlessly move ahead, the local residents are expected to forsake their pasts, which are to be buried under the water forever. Memories are disavowed as the nation pushes forward in a collective enterprise of progress and modernity. However, traces of the past can never be completely erased by the master narrative, because what is repressed and oppressed will eventually return to haunt those who seek to forget....
Liu the scavenger is not only digging up and collecting the personal belongings buried among the ruins, but also salvaging the memories and desires about to be submerged forever. His discoveries form a living museum for the vanished space. As a scavenger, Liu is the most sentimental character, a man who stubbornly clings to the past.... Torn between the past and the present, Liu painstakingly searches for the meaning of his life before the imminent disappearance of his whole world....
In the Lap of the Gods is filled with stories of unfulfilled desires, voluntary or involuntary abandonment, aborted hopes, ephemeral emotions, failed relationships, unending regrets, and nostalgic longings for a home that is no longer welcoming. Against such a drastically changing landscape, perhaps nothing remains constant. The only thing one can always hold on to is memory itself.
Although most of the characters in this novel are ordinary people such as peasants, scavengers, beggars, brokers, and migrant workers, they are nonetheless endowed with dignity, respect, and even tragic heroism. Confronted with unprecedented physical and emotional crises resulting from the deluge, some of them choose to follow the call of the mainstream rhetoric, move ahead, and start anew, while some choose to linger in the past and indulge in the disappeared world. Whatever the case, memory still asserts its presence and leaves traces among the ruins, just like the abandoned child Rose, who is rescued from the coming deluge and stubbornly lives on as a haunting reminder of the vanished past, whether others welcome it or not.
Li Miao Lovett is an award-winning writer whose essays and stories
have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Stanford Magazine, Earth
Island Journal, and on KQED public radio. She has organized events
for Words Without Borders showcasing the works of dissidents and censored writers. In the Lap of the Gods was a top-four finalist for the James Jones First Novel Fellowship. Li Miao lives in San Francisco.
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