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Reviews: Inside the Red Mansion
"A colorfully digressive book capitalizing on the thought that understanding the new China is essential to understanding a criminal who could so successfully exploit it. ... At the anecdotal level Mr. August illustrates how China's sense of history has experienced a post-Mao re-emergence, how grandiose imperial décor is again in vogue, how thoroughly food imagery infiltrates every kind of Chinese conversation, and how certain old ideas (concubinage) have a glamour that their modern equivalents (prostitution) lack. The tycoon who survived the economic downturn of his city, Beihai, to become the world's biggest, most vulgar producer of foie gras is a typical figure to attract Mr. August's eye. As investigative journalists go, Mr. August sounds more fun-loving than dogged. ... he undertook the search for Mr. Lai in a spirit of mischief." --Janet Maslin, New York Times

"August comes across as brave, resourceful and determined. My own brief experiences in China taught me that modernization can be ruthless and journalists are well-advised not to cross certain lines. August comes impressively close to crossing those lines. He strikes me as an accurate and principled reporter, not only cheerfully resistant to intimidation but also willing to give the social order its due. ... A fondness for China shines through August's pages. He is a careful and thoughtful observer, with an eye for emblematic contradictions:" --William T. Vollmann, L.A. Times

"A cautionary tale of boomtown China. The author reserves his most vivid prose for the 'fakers and fortune seekers, oddballs and outlaws' he meets along the way: canny dance-hall girls, magnates of karaoke and foie gras, an 'honesty doctor' who treats patients in a public park. His portraits are so lively that when Lai is finally arrested, at a casino in Niagara Falls, it's almost incidental." --The New Yorker

"A book that celebrates the underside of Xiamen, a coastal boomtown... August gives us a colorful sense of Xiamen and a microcosm of the upheaval in Chinese society. It's a leisurely and engaging tour." --Washington Post

"A captivating exploration of the Chinese underworld. This will surely make a movie." --Bloomberg

"A portrait that will keep readers turning pages. To travel with August through China is to be tantalized by quirky glimpses of a maverick culture ... August is an entertaining and observant tour guide." --The Christian Science Monitor

"This is a heart-pounding tour de force look at the new China, that growing worldwide economic colossus that is also a place of rampant lawlessness, corruption and bribery." --Seattle Post-Intelligencer

"A riveting look at modern China, with all its excesses and corruption." --Chicago Tribune

"August presents a smoky and almost drug-induced Chinese underworld of bandits, golf lessons, goose-liver merchants, Jesus freaks, lesbians, long-haired language tutors, police spies, thieves and prostitutes." --The Globe and Mail

"'Inside The Red Mansion: On the Trail of China's Most Wanted Man' is a succulent meal of tastes, textures and colours." --Vancouver Sun

"August's intimate involvement creates scenarios rich in subtle details. He befriends farm girls turned burlesque dancers and finds their fragile situation remarkably similar to that of their country." --Toronto Star

"An informed walk-through of life in contemporary China, one populated with characters such as Lilli, the owner of the nightclub Lai once frequented, and Fangmin, the taxi driver and would-be entrepreneur who befriends August and brings him to dinner with two government officials, introducing him as an American diplomat." --South China Morning Post

"August's journey through Lai's world has produced a lively, highly readable book that goes into areas rarely dealt with by foreign reporters. ... the author's enthusiasm, application and observation in following the trail of Lai brings alive for Western readers a slice of Chinese life other foreign writers have not reached. The undergrowth tells us more about the reality of today's multi-faceted China than many of the great oaks of analysis." --Jonathan Fenby, The Times (London)

"Oliver August's hunt for Lai Changxing is a ripping yarn in which he encounters all number of wacky but credible characters. But even better than the narrative are his observations of how life works in the new China - it is desperate, fast, entertaining and dangerous." --Misha Glenny, Sunday Times (London)

"The message of August's book ... is the awesome scale of corruption. It is this, more than anything, you reflect after reading August's otherwise hugely entertaining book, that is one day most likely to bring the whole crazy structure of China's Marxist-Leninist Chicago capitalism tumbling down." --George Walden, Sunday Telegraph (London)

"August, former Beijing bureau chief for the London Times, crafts a harrowing, super-detailed story of a China exploding with runaway growth yet still trapped in the past and ruled by the ethos of tufei—the classical Mandarin word for bandit. By turns delightfully surprising and slap-across-the-face sobering, August’s yarn centers on his quest to find Lai Changxing, a country boy turned self-made billionaire, thug and China’s most wanted man. August takes him from a private club (where “[f]locks of sequined mermaids waltzed past in merry circles, followed by operatic massifs of rouged Red Guards goose-stepping to ‘The Sound of Music’ ”) and Xiamen, an out-of-control coastal boomtown (with “[a] furious sea of cement and marble, wave upon wave of high-rises rippling out, strips of tarmac submerged at bottomless depths”) to a drab government building in Vancouver, B.C., where Lai was being held on immigration charges. August finally sees Lai not as a freewheeling gangster but as a man diminished—“Nothing about his physical bearing suggested the lyrical countenance of a tragic hero or a human devil...” This must-read, can’t-put-it down tale shows the China only hinted at on the evening news—a place of outsized egos, over-the top commercial development and shadowy, tradition-bound authoritarian rule.” --Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Oliver August uncovers the story of one of China's biggest and most flamboyant criminals, and in doing so offers a highly enjoyable yet often chilling insight into the underworld gangs that inhabit the dark side of the Chinese economic boom." --James Kynge, author of China Shakes the World

"In his hunt for China's most wanted man, Oliver August has painted a wry and rollicking portrait of the country's lawless coastal region. Part detective story, part reporter's notebook, Inside the Red Mansion is the first lucid accounting of this emerging superpower's economic, cultural and moral transformation. I loved it." --Jan Wong, author of Red China Blues

"This book is delightful. Oliver August has managed to be both very funny and very perceptive. Inside the Red Mansion is a picaresque adventure that also provides a look at a part of modern China rarely glimpsed by the outside world." --James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly

"Oliver August has found an excellent and unusual window through to which to view China, not only in the life and deeds of the super-rogue Lai Changxing but also as a memoir of August's own second life in Xiamen while he was pursuing his first as a reporter in Beijing. It is a compelling read, rich with fascinating details that convey the raw realities of China." --Bill Emmott, editor of The Economist 1993-2006, author of 20:21 Vision

"Inside the Red Mansion is a rollicking adventure through the underbelly of China's economic boom. Chasing down the life and legend of China's "Enemy Number One", Oliver August takes us beyond the familiar facades of Beijing and Shanghai into a world that few foreigners ever see. The book, as a result, is not just a riveting tale; it is a funny, poignant, and deeply revealing portrait of a society in wrenching transition. August deftly evokes the gritty surrealism of contemporary China, a place where smuggling tycoons are heroes, brothel madams are philosophers, and anything is possible." --Brook Larmer, author of Operation Yao Ming


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