The characters in Nell Freudenberger's first novel, "The Dissident," likable and sympathetic though most of them are, are nonetheless fools of various kinds, victims above all of their own willful or inadvertent duplicity. Their distress is mostly comic: feelings are hurt, and some real danger is encountered, but the book's dominant tone is one of wry, tolerant amusement. Alternating between third-person omniscience and the first-person reminiscence of a Chinese artist named Yuan Zhao, Freudenberger arranges a piquant sonata of general (you might say global) misunderstanding. Yuan, a veteran of the mid-1990's Beijing avant-garde art world, arrives in Southern California in the fall of 2000 for a temporary residency. He is housed with the affluent Travers family, whose chaotic emotional life is if anything more baffling to its members than to its foreign guest. Not that Yuan is exactly a neutral, na√Øve observer. His own background is hardly simple, and the reader begins to suspect early on that he is some kind of impostor, that his calm, careful voice is not entirely to be trusted. [Full text]
-Read also a profile of Freudenberger from the Los Angeles Times, via Newsday.
-A review of The Dissident from the Christian Science Monitor.
-Listen to a review of the book on Fresh Air.
-Read more about the Beijing avant-garde art scene.