On any given day, the pantheon of French Girls includes Bardot, Catherine Deneuve, Françoise Hardy, Jane Birkin, her daughters Charlotte Gainsbourg and Lou Doillon, and former Vogue Paris editor Carine Roitfeld. Coco Chanel, immortalized not so much as a young woman but as an elegant matriarch, retires nearby. They’re distinct both as fully realized people and as types—Bardot is fiery, Deneuve icy, Birkin carefree, Roitfeld edgy—but all are regularly brought in as evidence of the French Girl’s actuality.
Who is she? She’s intellectual, cool, and a bit of a romantic, but she doesn’t give her approval easily or smile too much. She might run around in black-tipped Chanel slingbacks, or barefoot if she’s on vacation. She has a signature perfume. She eats cheese without abandon and nurses a single glass of wine all night because she’s a master of reasonable indulgences. She’s almost always white, hetero, and thin, and you can only conjure her by willfully ignoring the many French women whose daily routines do not involve bicycling along the Seine in mini skirts with baguettes tucked under their arms.
But the French Girl’s influence is tangible. She makes money for big American drugstore chains, department stores, independent brands, book publishers, magazines, and digital media companies. She definitely has something to do with the fact that rosé, sales of which outpaced the rest of the wine market last year, has become so popular in the US.
The obsession has become a business, and in that sense, the French Girl is perfectly real.
This novel Dee Goong An is offered here in a complete translation. Possibly it would have had a wider appeal if it had been entirely re-written in a form more familiar to our readers. Then, however, much of the genuine Chinese atmosphere of the original would have disappeared, and in the end both the Chinese author, and the Western reader would have been the losers. Some parts may be less interesting to the Western reader than others, but I am confident that also in this literal translation the novel will be found more satisfactory than the palpable nonsense that is foisted on the long-suffering public by some writers of faked “Chinese” stories, which describe a China and a Chinese people that exist nowhere except in their fertile imaginations.