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August 14, 1994|CHARLES SOLOMON

FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE by Lillian Lee, translated from the Chinese by Andrea Lingenfelter (HarperPerennial: $9; 255 pp.). Lee co-wrote the screenplay for Chen Kaige's film version of her epic tale of two Peking Opera stars. The brash Duan Xiaolou portrays swaggering heroes; Cheng Dieye is a dan, who performs female roles. When they meet as boys in a brutal theatrical school, Xiaolou protects the delicate Dieye. But as they mature, Dieye confuses friendship and passion, a mistake that brings the two men into conflict when Xiaolou weds. Dieye and Xiaolou manage to survive the social upheavals that have convulsed China during the 20th Century, including the Japanese occupation and the Cultural Revolution. The sorrow and oppression they endure strengthens the bond between them, as heat tempers steel. Reflecting on the lives of actors, Lee notes grimly, "Once the curtain goes up they have to perform the play from beginning to end. They have nowhere to hide."

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