Avenue of Eternal Peace
"After forty years of communist rule, the ancient civiliaation of China, newly exposed to western influences, is in a state of vigorous contradiction. Enter Wally Frith, a leading cancer specialist, who travels from the gritty frozen north to the tranquil lakes and mountains of the south, looking for answers.
"Does traditional Chinese medicine contain a possible cancer cure? Professor Hsu Chien Lung might have - the clue, but did he ever exist? Is the elegant, enigmatic linguist, Jin Juan, really trying to help Wally in his quest?
"As he fights through a maze of bureaucracy and subterfuge, Wally falls in with people whose lives reflect the diversity of contemporary Peking: a model, shady traders, a basketballer, students, a dissident artist and a band of eccentric westerners.
"Finally, Peking opera turns to a passionate drama for freedom and democracy, when thousands of Chinese students occupy the grey streets of the capital."
The map under glass made no sense. Wally Frith fingered the wad of notes that Mrs Gu had given him.
She had been all befuddled, bespectacled smiles at the airport, as they lugged his baggage through the frozen night in search of the car. Now, in the overheated room to which she had delivered him, she presented a different face. Perched uncompromisingly on the arm of a chair, she explained the forms that the Foreign Affairs Office required him to complete.
'Just tell me what to do,' Wally obliged.
'No, no,' she protested, as if it were unthinkable to tell anyone what to do. 'I need eight passport photographs. Meanwhile you will be welcome to a banquet next week. Professor Doctor Frith, thank you.'
She was gone before daylight broke, leaving him to study the map under glass on the table in front of him, his neck rucking the antimacassar of the sofa on which his body longed to doze. So this is China, he thought, reaching for the bottle of duty-free scotch and, on inspection of the bathroom, splashing his face with icy water that was unfit to drink. The mission for day one was to procure eight passport photographs. As morning lightened he was lovingly lacing the old polished walking boots that in younger days had taken him over mountains in three continents. He opened the door, trekked carefully downstairs and stepped outside into a chilly draught of icy dust and soot that tickled his nostrils. There was no green thing in sight, only the grey sky suffused with silver brightness, liverish bricks and tiles, and slashes of scarlet woodwork on the old rooftops. The buildings of Peking Union Medical College, for three-quarters of a century China's leading teaching and research hospital, were moored like a fleet of galleons in the pale and frozen world. Wally pulled down the fur hat his White Russian colleague had bequeathed him, 'from the old days', and marched forward.
From the Allen and Unwin paperback edition, 1998.
This novel was shortlisted the Miles Franklin Award in 1990.
About the Author:
Nicholas Jose was horn in 1952 in England but grew up in Broken Hill, Traralgon, Perth and Adelaide. He studied at the Australian National University and Oxford. He has since lived and worked mainly in Canberra and in England, Italy and China, where he is the Cultural Counsellor at the Australian Embassy in Beijing.
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Last modified: May 7, 2002.