The Sisters Mao by Gavin McCrea: All the world’s a stage

Ideas flow ceaselessly and impact in unexpected ways in this compendious novel

Gavin McCrea has created a trio of characters burdened by considerable personal and political histories.

Gavin McCrea has created a trio of characters burdened by considerable personal and political histories.

Latein The Sisters Mao, Gavin McCrea’s compendious and surprising second novel, an unexpected encounter takes place in Beijing. It is 1974, and Jiang Qing, the redoubtable wife of Chairman Mao, is taking tea with Imelda Marcos, in her heyday as the first lady of the Philippines and on a visit to communist China to attend the premiere of a revolutionary ballet. 

Naturally, Marcos is done up to the nines, complete with gleaming shoes “set off by a single gold buckle” – and Jiang is, surprisingly, entranced by her waxen- faced companion, who “glowed, not with the vigour of revolutionary struggle, but as though transfused with Western blood. She shone, she burned, dangerously so, in the style of high-class productions, of colour films, of millionaire’s magazines, of Toscanini.” 

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