Strange Bedfellows, a novel by Liu Zhenyun, China's most renowned writer of satire, and translated by Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Lin, is a farcical tale of sibling devotion, sexual exploitation, and official corruption, all played out more or less in bed. Though a critique of new mercenary values, scam artists, and the common folks' vulnerability to scam artists, the novel is also an oblique compliment to the resourcefulness of these folks in a changing China.
The strange bedfellows from various parts of China include Niu Xiaoli, a country girl who borrows money from a hometown loan shark to find a new wife for her brother, whose first wife ran off with another man. When the second wife runs off with the money for the arrangement, Xiaoli goes on a search for her, only to end up prey to a high-class madam, who teaches her to become a "fake-virgin" prostitute. Xiaoli begins a life of fleecing the wealthy and powerful.
One of Xiaoli's clients is Li Anbang, the governor of a certain province, who faces arrest and possible execution for bribe-taking. A practitioner of black magic recommends that Li sleeps with a virgin to solve his problems. And thereon the twists and turns continue.
Liu's trenchant criticism and fast-paced, humorous narrative is a delight to read. The irony that those exploiting the people end up being exploited themselves will not be lost on readers.