The Dissident by Nell Freudenberger Picador, HK$128 Hardly a review of Nell Freudenberger goes by without mentioning that she is young, good looking and talented. Her unpublished Lucky Girls ran in The New Yorker's prestigious Summer Fiction issue; then she turned down a US$500,000 two-book deal, accepting a paltry US$100,000 instead. It was a noble and rather smart move: half a million dollars buys a lot of pressure in the publishing world. As The Dissident shows, Freudenberger's restraint has paid off handsomely. Yuan Zhou, a Chinese performance artist, is invited to spend a year teaching at St Anselm's, an elite girl's school in Los Angeles. There, he stays with the Traverses, an ultra-wealthy if ultra-eccentric family, and spends his time copying an ancient painting made by Chinese artist Zhao Cangyun. Intersecting this narrative is another set in Beijing, where Yuan searches for his cousin, another avant-garde performance artist - he likes to hang himself upside down - and veteran of Tiananmen Square, who goes by the moniker 'X'. The Dissident is an impressive meditation on the fragility of art (whether the delicate silk scroll or the ephemeral performances) and a startlingly mature look at love, life, politics and the speed of change in the modern world.