The novel is set in Tibet’s borderlands, where nomadic settlers received chieftain status and ruling power from Chinese emperors during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Beginning in the 1930s, the “idiot” son of Chieftain Maichi skillfully describes the cultural, social, financial and political life of this bloody feudal time. The lifestyle of his family is filled with servants, concubines, a family executioner, religious advisers, and the family historian. Vast riches come from growing grain and the opium poppy, and bring guns, silver, and syphilis.
Red Poppies won China’s highest literary award, the Mao Dun Prize, in 2000. It is recommended for adults interested in Tibetan culture. Alai tests a new field of writing with this epic novel, expected to be the first in a trilogy. His writing style is sensitive, yet sensual. He is a promising writer who dares to write of his birthplace, exposing rivalry even within a family when one parent is from Tibet and the other from China.