The Dissident

Joanna Biggs writes:

In Nell Freudenberger’s first novel, Yuan Zhao, a Chinese artist, is invited to Los Angeles as a visiting scholar at St Anselm’s School for Girls. He is famous for the experimental performance art and painting he made as a member of the artists’ community in Beijing’s East Village during the early 1990s, and what is more alluring, for being arrested for his art, but he hasn’t ‘done anything more than pencil sketches for the past five years’. His cousin, an artist who introduced him to the East Village, is encouraging: ‘An artist is an artist, no matter what he’s doing,’ he tells Yuan. Perhaps Yuan will be inspired by his new surroundings, and his cousin, X, as he is called throughout Yuan’s narrative ‘because of his continuing activity in China’, looks forward to what the painter-in-exile will produce:

‘It’s not an exile,’ I said. ‘I’m choosing to go.’

‘In pseudo-exile,’ X agreed. ‘Even more interesting.’

(LRB 8 February 2007)

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Nell Freudenberger

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