"After China, is a novel which offers lasting pleasures through its rich combination of consummate story-telling, playfulness and wisdom.
"An architect meets a writer on a beach. He has escaped from China. She is dying of cancer.
"Attracted to her, yet infinitely cautious, he spins ties between them with near-magical stories of ancient China.
"Without knowing that she is ill, that she is dying, his stories derive from Taoist manuals which prescribe sexual control in order to attain immortality.
"In time he comes to understand the urgency of her predicatment and the irony of his drive to save her.
"As the novel unfolds, and as the strangely labyrinthine hotel he has designed threatens to merge with the ocean over which it is so precariously built, we understand with him that if illness is totally time-bound, then only story-telling can being to exorcise time.
"After China has all the power and lasting beauty of a contemporary Arabian Nights.
"The idea of China - as a measure of difference from the West - is freshly explored through robust, life-affirming story-telling. And, in turn, magnificently counterpoints the delicate hesitancies of this most contemporary of romances, allowing the reader to think anew about issues no less weighty than love and survival."
'During winter,' Lao-tzu said, 'one should not ejaculate at all.' The venerable philosopher, reputed to be a hundred and eighty years old, had already surpassed becoming an Immortal. Ten partners in the hour before midnight. Almost twelve hundred copulations without emission so far this year (c. 499 BC). With each, an aphorism had come to mind.
But it had not been a good year, though the reclusive author of the Tao Te Ching had prodigiously staved off rumours that he was dying. He was banking on the hope that his aphorisms would restore him from those previous pronouncements on health which had been stale and technical. An example:
To build up yang essence, one must have sexual relations with many different women as often as possible without emission. Reinforced by the female yin ... the longer one can do this, the more yin essence will be absorbed, thereby increasing and strengthening one's vitality . . . man's yang essence will flow upwards along his spinal column, delivering an awesome power to his brain and to his entire system. This will render him immortal. Time will then be suspended and exorcised. Et cetera.
These were not the words of a divinity. They weren't even the words of an aphorist.
From the Allen and Unwin paperback edition, 1992.
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This novel was shortlisted for the 1993 Miles Franklin Award.
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Last modified: December 14, 2004.