Friday, May 02, 2008

Chinese Literature reviewed in the New York Times Sunday Book Review

My last blog post concerned the cult figure Li Yang, advocate of "Crazy English". To rectify somewhat that focus on the idiosyncratic and bizarre, I'd like to mention a few new works by Chinese authors mentioned in this week's New York Times Sunday Book Review.

Jonathan Spence reviews Mo Yan's Life and Death are Wearing Me Out, published by Arcade and translated by Howard Goldblatt. Spence writes:


"At one level [...] “Life and Death” is a kind of documentary,
carrying the reader across time from the land reform at the end of the Chinese Civil War, through the establishment of mutual-aid teams and lower-level cooperatives in the early and mid-1950s, into the extreme years of the Great Leap Forward and the famine of the late ’50s and early ’60s, and on to the steady erosion of the collective economy in the new era of largely unregulated “capitalism with socialist characteristics.” At the novel’s close, some of the characters are driving BMWs, while others are dyeing their hair blond and wearing gold rings in their noses.

Yet although one can say that the political dramas narrated by Mo Yan are historically faithful to the currently known record, “Life and Death” remains a wildly visionary and creative novel, constantly mocking and rearranging itself and jolting the reader with its own internal commentary. This is politics as pathology. From the start, the reader must be willing to share with Mo Yan the novel’s central conceit: that the five main narrators are not
humans but animals, albeit ones who speak with sharply modulated human voices. Each of the successive narrators — a donkey, an ox, a pig, a dog, a monkey — are the sequential reincarnations of a man named Ximen Nao, as determined by Yama, lord of the underworld."


Meanwhile, Aventurina King writes on loved / reviled Chinese pop novelist Guo Jingming. King writes:

Thousands of teenagers — his readers are rarely over 20 — flock to Guo’s signing sessions. Some post frenzied declarations of love on his blog: “Little Four, I will always be with you!” (Guo’s nickname comes from “fourth dimension war,” a random quotation he found in a magazine.) Alongside adoring letters
addressed to “Big Brother Guo,” the author posts pictures of himself half-naked in the shower, in his underwear or swathed in Dolce & Gabbana accessories and Louis XIV-style shirts.

Guo is hardly universally beloved. Last fall, he was voted China’s most hated male celebrity for the third year in a row on Tianya, one of the country’s biggest online forums. Yet three of his four novels have sold over a million copies each, and last year he had the highest income of any Chinese author: $1.4
million.

The most critically acclaimed Chinese novels of recent years — “Wolf Totem” (a parable about the death of Mongolian culture and a veiled critique of the Cultural Revolution), Yu Hua’s “To Live,” Mo Yan’s “Republic of Wine” — generally use their characters as vessels for broad social and political commentary. But Guo’s novels focus on the tortured psyches of his adolescent characters, who either nurse their melancholy by sitting alone for long hours under trees and on rooftops, or try to blunt it with drinking, fighting and karaoke.


In addition, Liesl Schillinger writes on Yan Lianke's Serve the People! translated by Julia Lovel, which she describes as a "bluntly drawn, mildly erotic fable" banned in China. Francine Prose reviews Wang Anyi's The Song of Everlasting Sorrow, and Pankaj Mishra discusses Jiang Rong's Wolf Totem.

1 comment:

christine said...

Thanks for this informative post.