utorak, 31. srpnja 2012.

Egisto Macchi - Voix, Futurissimo, Bioritmi, Sei Composizioni

Egisto Macchi, genij talijanske glazbene avangarde 60-ih i 70-ih, također tvorac muzike za 50 filmova, jedan je od onih velikana o kojima se ne govori često. No njegov Voix iz 1970. Sveti je gral suvremene muzike, kaže Sean Canty (Demdike Stare). Ponekad saharinski pitak, ponekad višekanalno lud, mračan i uznemirujući, Macchi je prihvatljiv i onima koji ne vole "avangardno piljenje". Još od Macchija: Futurissimo, Bioritmi, Sei composizioni, I futuribili itd.

Italian avant-garde and film composer Egisto Macchi (1928-1992) produced a large and largely forgotten catalogue of astounding music during the 1960s and 1970s. At the crest of that incredible body of work stands Voix - an LP of intense contrasts – haunting, dissonant choirs collide with dexterous musique concrete manipulations and other worldly soundscapes while guitars buzz and strings scrape violently. The world of Voix is a frightening and beautiful place. There are echoes here of Macchi’s friend and famous collaborator (in the avant composer’s collective ‘Il Gruppo Di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza’) Ennio Morricone, yet Egisto Macchi existed in a musical universe truly all his own, and the time for a reappraisal of this undiscovered cosmology has surely come. Presented as an exact replica of the incredibly rare 1970 Gemelli library LP, remastered from the original master tapes and complete with scholarly liner notes as an insert. Some consider Egisto Macchi to be an unheralded genius. - theroundtable.bigcartel.com

I Futuribili
Another impossible to find Italian library recording sees the light of day once more. Originally released in 1972, in a minute pressing of 500 copies by the Italian Gemelli label, Egisto Macchi's "I Futuribili" is perhaps one of the finest examples of Italian library music ever recorded. Despite working extensively in the field of film, television and soundtrack music for over forty years, Egisto Macchi is known little outside a few soundtrack collectors and music library music aficionados. This is a shame, as much of his work and especially this recording is remarkably unparalleled in both vision and execution. The oppressive incertitude of "Camere Anecoiche"is a masterful study in compositional suspense. Vapourous and eerie electronic tones pulse and fluctuate like the flapping wings of stunted and misshapen insects. Sound becomes slowly asphyxiated as tense, blunted string motifs twist, loosen and tighten around the main electronic theme, the effect is like being suspended in a hallucinatory, motionless hall of fevered dreams. With each successive listen, new details are born out of the darkness, hidden resonances wait in the shadows, eager to snare the unsuspecting listener. "Nouvi Planeti" demonstrates Egisto Macchi's consummate prowess in cinematic composition, this arrangement weirdly pollinates twilight zone stuttering pizzicato, rattling percussive palpitations and deep resonant drum tremors which oddly sound reminiscent of a funereal procession in space. "Richiami Spacziali" is darker still, a vertigo inducing contradiction of ascending and descending scales, rising and falling in foul perfection. Sonorous strings decay in bleak noctambulation, the forest is alive with owl-like woodwind, archaic electronics cackle, rattle and hiss creating a veritable cinema for the ears. Thematically, "I Futuribili"is a strange beast, with sound images consistently converging in unexpected and radical ways. It seems strange that music such as this, which was originally intended as mere background music for the flickering screen and cathode ray tube sounds so emotively powerful to modern ears. Far from a collection of miscellaneous cues, each composition builds and develops into a singular vision of a dark, sinister, mysterious sound world. Is this sacred music? Is it music of the profane? Is this music of inner or music of outer space? Is this music of past, present or future? "Forme Planetaire" is a perfect example of these contradictions, as dank moog droplets languorously fall from the heavens, forming taught harmonic stalactites gilded by an elegant and restrained string arrangement. Sounds dissolve then momentarily reappear, flickering, wraithlike. In this dark,untenanted landscape everything which is solid melts into the black miasmatic smog.  "I Futuribili", which translates as "The Futuristic" is a fascinating, category defying recording, investigate it at the earliest opportunity. Another wonderful cinematic communique from the immeasurable darkness by Roundtable. Now, if someone will only be so kind as to reissue Città Notte. - fingersports.blogspot.com

First ever reissue of a masterpiece by co-founder of the legendary and influential Nuova Consonanza. Remastered from original tapes and including lucubrate liner notes from the label. "The One; a holy grail" according to Demdike Stare's Sean Canty** Egisto Macchi's 'Voix' is nothing short of a pivotal, yet largely unknown side in the canon of '70s Italian new music. It follows Roundtable & The Omni Recording Company's blink-and-miss reissue of Gruppo Di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza's 'Niente' and his own incredible 'I Futuribili' with a phantasmagoric collection of works mainly for voice (duh), contrasted with dextrous musique concrète manipulations, ornamental orchestrations and vivid, otherworldly soundscapes. As recently evidenced to those beyond the confines of record collectordom, Macchi is long overdue a reappraisal out of the shows of his peer and GINC collaborator Ennio Morricone, and this LP, along with 'I Futuribili' go some length towards reaffirming his genius. We can draw a broad line between the two sides of 'Voix'; on the one hand, most interesting to us at least, are the precise, intricate percussive pieces created from spaciously defined handheld drums, electronic stabs and near-tribal rhythms, alloyed to menacing chorales and possessed keys with the darkest avant-garde manner. The other half is given to sweeter, more naif themes played on woodwind, whistles and strings. But even when you think they start to border on saccharine, he'll slice in with some percussive shock or abstract concrète blurt, always maintaining that underlying, cinematic tension. So it's no stretch of the imagination to hear similarities between his mechanical, alchemical aesthetic and Demdike Stare's, a prototype for multi-disciplined, abstract music with purposeful, carmine atmospheres. Ultimately, it's a record you need to own. - Boomkat

Here is yet another amazing dark avant-garde library music LP from Italian composer Egisto Macchi. Many people consider Voix to be his masterpiece. While it is an amazing record in its own right, I personally prefer both Futurissimo and Sei Composizioni, both of which I recently shared on the blog. You can find Futurissimo here and Sei Composizioni here.
Voix was released in 1970, and was the first library music album that Macchi composed. It was the first of many which Macchi composed for the amazing Italian library label, Gemelli. Gemelli released several avant-garde library music LPs. It was owned and operated by legendary Italian composer, Bruno Nicolai, up until his death in 1991. Unfortunately Gemelli releases are extremely difficult to come by. Only 500 copies of each release were pressed.

As with all of Macchi's work, Voix is an absolute masterpiece of dark avant-garde music. The majority of the tracks have an ominous tone, with a mechanical or industrial feel to them. The percussion work is absolutely amazing, with small handheld percussion instruments at the forefront, backed by powerful tribal rhythms. There is also plenty of hauntingly, beautiful piano work throughout. In contrast, there are also some more brutal moments, as Macchi relentlessly pounds upon the keys in a frantic manner. Vocals play a prominent role in the arrangements, with haunting choral vocals appearing on several tracks, as well as strange muffled voices, menacing hisses and disturbing laughter. Piano keys are frantically pounded upon. Ominous strings feature prominently throughout, often used in in a rhythmical, percussive manner. Ambient electronics provide a textured backdrop to several of the tracks.

The B-side marks a change in tone, with many of the tracks having a whimsical, dreamlike feel to them, while still retaining a a slightly sinister undertone. There is a distinct theme present on the B-side, featuring a common melody which can be heard on "La Memoire", "Chanson De La Nuit" and "Chanson Du Matin". This will be one of the last albums I share for my dark and twisted library music series. I plan to move out of the shadows soon, and showcase some of the more upbeat library music gems.

"Egisto Macchi was raised in Rome, where he studied literature, piano, violin, singing and composition, as well as courses in medicine and physics.
The first years of his work were dedicated to instrumental composition. He was then involved in the investigation of musical theater, for which he wrote experimental works, as A(lter) A(ction) (1962), based on texts by Antonin Artaud. In 1965, he founded with Domenico Guaccero and Sylvano Bussotti the Compagnia del Teatro Musicale di Roma. Starting in 1968, Macchi wrote scores for films and television, for Joseph Losey, the Taviani brothers, Bernardo Bertolucci, among many other filmmakers. From 1980, he was dedicated to the composition of works for the female voice, combining voices with chamber orchestras, small instrumental groupings and even fireworks, and experimenting with new technologies. This led to the creation of the Istituto della Voce in 1983, with Guaccero.
With his friends Franco Evangelisti, Danièle Paris and Guaccero, Macchi was active throughout his life in organizations related to music, such as an editorial, the publication "Ordini", dedicated to reviews and studies of new music, and the Palermo New Music festival, all in 1959; the group Nuova Consonanza in 1960, to promote contemporary music; in 1967, with Evangelisti, Guaccero and Gino Marinuzzi Jr., he was one of the founders of Studio R7, an electronic workshop for experimental music, he was a member of the Italian Commission of Music for UNICEF, with Evangelisti, Nino Rota, Ennio Morricone and Luis Enríquez Bacalov, and he joined the Gruppo d'Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, created by Evangelisti; from 1976 to 1981 he organized the Corali Riunite in his home town, Grosseto, and since 1984 he directed the sound archives of the Institute of Research for Musical Theater.
In his last years, Macchi had been working with Morricone on a project to promote the "new opera". He had arranged La Bohème for 16 instruments and four synthesizers, and Morricone had worked on Tosca. Both works were ready to be staged, when Macchi died in 1992."
From RYM
Here are 2 classic LPs for the fans of the so called "library music", by one of the masters of the genre.Released on Gemelli and Montparnasse2000 labels respectively,these 2 are some serious examples of abstract electronics from the early 70s. Bioritmi is an interpretation of some medical actions to music ,though Futurissimo is more abstract space music oriented. - Mutant Sound

subota, 28. srpnja 2012.

Nick Patterson - Ilustracije za stravu kratiti

Nick Patterson ilustrira članke u magazinima i naslovnice knjiga. Časnik za vezu u Lovecraftovim jedinicama nezemaljske strave. Najnoviji projekt mu je knjiga Family Romance za koju je on najprije napravio ilustracije a suludi Tom Bradley na osnovi njih napisao tekst.

Kao ilustrator surađivao je i na knjizi Epigonesia (tekst Kane X. Faucher i Tom Bradley, ilustracije Patterson i David Aronson):





Felicia's Nose Cover

Kineski književnici mlađi od 40

Tajvanski časopis Unitas Magazine predstavlja najbolje mlade književnike koji pišu na kineskome (a žive u Kini, Tajvanu, Hong-Kongu, Maleziji...): Gan Yaoming, Wang Congwei, Gao Yifeng, Zhang Yixuan, and Lu Min, Xu Rongzhe, Zhang Yaosheng, Wenren Yueyue, A Yi, Gong Wanhu. 
Jaaako zanimljivo

1. Gan Yaoming (Taiwan) – History As Fairytale
by Zhu Youxun (trans. Poppy Toland)

Photo by Shen Huifeng

In 2009, when Gan Yaoming's book Killing Ghost was dazzling Taiwan's book market, a friend of mine described it as Hayao Miyazaki in book form. This seemed counterintuitive, as Gan's novels differ from Miyazaki's mangas not only thematically and stylistically but in their narratives as well. Yet the analogy holds water in at least one important respect: both oeuvres invoke fairytales at the same time as they engage deeply with history.
Early on in his literary career, Gan Yaoming already abandoned the tired and uninspired first-person internal monologues so widely used by young fiction writers. Instead, he engaged a fantastic, fairytale logic in depicting a fictional universe that is stylistically his own. Unlike other fiction writers, he does not subscribe to the modern mantra that simple and clearly defined characters should be avoided. On the contrary, Gan Yaoming seems to believe that simple characters do not harm the novel, only boring characters do. And Gan Yaoming's work is in no way boring; it is simply by way of clear-cut characterizations that his rich stories unfold.
Gan's most representative work Killing Ghost shows a clearly talented novelist at the height of his powers. This is a historical novel—although the vast majority of its readers would probably be surprised to hear it described as such.
In contrast with Li Qiao's Wintery Night trilogy, which also tackles the subject of WWII Japanese occupation but uses realist techniques, Killing Ghost appears, on the surface at least, to take 'unrealism' to its limits. This is evident from its opening scene, in which the protagonist, Pa, fights a resistance battle against trains representing the Japanese. Fantastical twists throughout keep the reader racing through the carefully constructed curves of the plot, never losing speed.
Wide-eyed readers are also sure to feel compassion and sorrow for the victims of history in this novel—testament to Gan's skill as a writer. One scene that comes to mind is when Liu Jinfu poisons Pa to save him from being conscripted into military service. Depictions of bitter struggles such as this are written with great attention and act as a profound metaphor for the colonial situation. Gan's latest work Tales at the Funeral opens with a fairytale which evolves into other stories of great compassion—again, with a clear basis in history.
Despite the flashiness of some of his techniques, it is clear that Gan has nothing but empathy for his characters. His writing is innovative while at the same time reminding us that we still have much to learn from the past. Historical writing does not necessarily have to be weighty to fulfil literature's goals, whether exploratory or ethical. And just because a literary work is profound does not mean it cannot also be enjoyable—as the above examples show. Gan's fiction bridges genres previously thought irreconcilable—but "achieving the impossible"—isn't that what fairytales do?

Gan Yaoming's Bio:Born in 1972, Gan Yaoming started to write fiction at the Chinese Department of Tunghai University. Part of a literary circle '8P', whose members all won literary awards. After Waterghost School and Losing Mama′s Otter, Gan Yaoming developed the unique style he is now known for in Killing Ghost and Tales at the Funeral.

Recommended Works:

Killing Ghost (2009) A hefty novel of great craft, easy to get lost in, with its staggering cast of characters and complex plot. Nonetheless, this won't matter—you'll be gripped from start to finish.

Mysterious Train (2003) As Li Shuangxue has commented, the short stories in this collection almost seem to have been written by different writers. The range of voices, themes and styles found in this collection hints at the writer's full potential. Readers who are only familiar with his later work might revisit this collection for his earlier styles and imagine parallel Gan Yaoming universes.

Tales at the Funeral (2010) This short-story collection uses a typically classical framework, where each person tells a different story, similar to 1,001 Nights or Canterbury Tales. Each story employs a traditional structure, unlike so many contemporary narratives these days.

2. Wang Congwei (Taiwan) – Freewheeling From Here to There

by Ding Yungong (trans. Poppy Toland)

Photo by He Shang

I have an image of Wang Congwei at the editorial office of FHM. Following an introduction by the novelist Xu Rongzhe, I'd been invited to go and talk to him about writing an article. Before that I'd only ever seen him in the enthralling final to the Newcomers Literary Contest. Having been eliminated from the same contest, I was feeling pretty sour - so I sat opposite, throwing him sideways glances.
Of course I was aware that there was no way a men's magazine was going to commission me to write about Dostoevsky and Khodorkovsky and for this I had prepared myself. But I was still nursing the fantasy that I might be able to write about a fashionable topic like music, film or culture study. However, what he assigned me was a piece entitled 'Top Ten Madnesses in the History of the Congress.'
"Make it farcical," he said. "Next time I'll ask you to write a piece called 'Taiwan in a Thousand Years.'"
"What the hell are you talking about?" I wanted to shout.
I have another image of Wang, many years later, at Kaohsiung's Literary Prize Award Ceremony. By then he was Editor-in-Chief of Unitas Magazine, the organiser of the event. With his arms crossed, he leisurely surveyed the running of the ceremony. I was there in the vulgar and uncultured role of city official. All I could do was stand there holding a slice of cake from the after-ceremony garden party while searching for people to engage in uneasy small-talk.
I'd just finished a close reading of Complicated Island and Riverside Girl. So, I asked Wang, "Your next work, will it also be set in Kaohsiung?" It felt like the appropriate question to ask then.
"No plans like that at the moment," he responded. "My next novel will be a romance."
"A what?" I asked
"A romance," he repeated.
"Well..." (I was rather out of my depth.)
A further image of Wang, at yet another literary prize award ceremony. Again, he was there in his capacity of Editor-in-Chief of Unitas Magazine, and again I had turned into a socially awkward and dull conversationalist.
"Actually I haven't really been awarded three major newspaper's literary prizes," he told me.
"What? Really? Never?" I was seriously shocked, although naturally I didn't let it show in my face.
"Really. Maybe one day I'll have a go and see if I can," he said, his tone of voice clearly implying that he was joking.
I first became aware of Wang Congwei in 2004, and as someone who did not pay much attention to the dynamics of the literary world, this shows that he was already a well known figure, at least within highbrow circles.

Had he really never had to play the kinds of games we were all forced to play? The last few generations of literary writers have almost without exception had to rely on literary prizes to get noticed—and see them as more important than getting published. Because of this, the elected literary elite seem to have the same "prize-winning" style. This is more about knowing what one shouldn't write rather than what one should. Murakami-esque youth fiction and Internet love stories, for example, are taboo.
One would be hard-pressed to argue against such restrictions, but it is hard to deny the limits they place on writing. The situation is akin to being trapped in a cage. Wang, however, has not been entrapped – perhaps because from early on he refused to enter the cage. In fact, the philosophy graduate even writes in a plain style, out of an unwillingness to adopt the pretentions of highbrow literature.
The best writer to come out of Kaohsiung in a decade, Wang first won acclaim for neo-nativist novels Complicated Island and Riverside Girl. Who could have predicted that the excellent prose stylist would follow up with Lovers Have Passed By, a book printed to look like an internet novel with celebrity recommendations on the cover, and of course this year's scandalous Teacher's Body?
Wang's trajectory makes me think of a sidecar. I'm not even sure he has the kind of money for a sidecar, but it appears to have become a signature of his. Defying all expectation with each new book, he seems to be saying, "Hey, look — I can ride directly from here to there. Can you?"
The sidecar doesn't have four wheels, nor does it have two wheels. Everyone knows what it is, but you don't often see it on the road. It can cross Complicated Island with its deliberately literary intentions, but it can also carry lovers who are absurdly light. In his quest for freedom in writing, Wang does not travel in any one single direction but he can only ever go forwards.
Wang Congwei's Bio:
Wang Congwei was born in 1972. He studied at the National Taiwan University's Department of Philosophy and Graduate Institute of Art History. Previously an Assistant Editor at Taiwan Ming Pao Weekly, an Assistant Executive Editor-in-Chief at Marie Claire and an Assistant Editor-in-chief of FHM, Wang is currently Editor-in-Chief at Unitas Magazine.

He started receiving the attention of the literary world in 1999, immediately after "Shanoon Ocean Journey" was selected for the 1998 Short Story Awards. In 2008 his full-length novel, Riverside Girl, won the China Times Book Review's Ten Best Books Award and the Wu Yongfu Literary Award; it was also nominated for the Jin Ding Award and the Taiwan Golden Classic Literature Prize and was among the books selected for the Frankfurt Book Fair. That same year his collection of novellas and short stories Complicated Island was published to great acclaim, and selected as a finalist for the Taipei International Book Fair Prize. Other works include Teacher's Body, Lovers Have Passed By, Fleeting Images, Walking Zhongshan North Road and Taipei Is Not Around To Prove It.

Recommended Works:

Teacher's Body (2012) Centering on the controversial issue of teacher-student relationships, this novel reminds us that behind every report you read in a newspaper is a heap of suppressed personal accounts. Oh, and hell is other people.

Complicated Island (2008) An island within an island—thus "Complicated Island." It's not the Qijin everyone knows, teeming with seafood restaurants and seawater bathing pools, but a Qijin of family memories mixed with illusions. Via these four stand-alone short stories linked by characters from one paternal lineage, Wang transports you through harbour tunnels into whirlpool narratives.

Riverside Girl (2008) You might not know that the place name, Hamasing, actually comes from the Japanese pronunciation for riverside. Or that for a hundred years there was a railway line there which passed through its residential courtyards, western-style buildings, palace, brand new department stores—with macabre pasts—towards the dark alleys of its town centre. Wang describes everything prior to Hamasing as floating in the reclaimed land of memory, and doubt.

3. Gao Yifeng (Taiwan) – Freezing Scenes, Going Fast

by Chih-Ying Lay (trans. Jiang Chenxin)

Photo by Zhang Enhao

Going Fast in Bright Light was my introduction to Gao Yifeng's work. This short story collection deals with city life—more usually the subject of movies and photography, as these popular media lend themselves better to capturing bright lights and urban rhythms. Where language is used in these works, it aims for the instant impact of ads. Unusually for a literary writer, Gao is also a fashion magazine editor and hence an arbiter of pop culture trends, so I was intrigued by his choice of the conventional art form of the novel to portray city life. Upon reading his earlier fictions (This Cage Called Home, Scar Preface, Flesh Moth), I discovered the impressive scope of Gao's imagination: his stories are set in places ranging from countryside to city, from office to prison; they are peopled by both blue- and white-collar characters, and draw freely on the Hakka dialect. Furthermore, Gao's understanding of the human condition turns out to be several generations deep.
Gao once asked, "If life were to freeze in an instant, what would it look like?" His stories often depict such frozen scenes, or begin with a frozen point in time and expand outwards from that moment, which thus functions like the vanishing point in a two-dimensional drawing. This narrative strategy, inherently unsuited for the exploration of cause and effect (a story's "third dimension," if you will), appears in a number of Gao's fictions, including "Tiger," "Man-Shaped Cage," "Walkway," and "One Gram of Sadness", the last of which reads like an urban sketch book. Most fully explored in the novel Phantom Asylum, this narrative structure made Tong Weige wonder if it was not essentially an "extended short story." Interestingly, Gao himself has coined the word "micro-novel" to describe what he does. Whether he sets out to write "extended short stories" or "micro-novels," his technique is assuredly cubist: To convey the many elements of Phantom Asylum's plot, he depicts multiple points in time on the same plane. Such a controlled structure erases a sense of passing time, and heightens the artifice of his settings.
The theme of freezing is more than a temporal device in Gao's work, however, as many characters carry scars, frozen reminders of the past. Characters with scars form another hallmark of Gao's fiction, as easy to recognize as a signature, especially in Going Fast in Bright Light.
Though many of Gao's characters are misfits or losers, even if they may have pulled the short straw in life, Gao rarely allows them to die: instead, despite setback after setback, they live on, absorbing more and more pain. They would resemble characters in a Paul Auster novel—except that Gao's characters are yet more resigned, having been abandoned even by death.
Gao is serious about fiction: you can tell that it is his life work. The way he writes is strategic, focused, the result of careful planning, such as the outline for his "City Trilogy." Attracted to—or possibly dragged into—this pursuit, his wife Peng Xinrou has also begun to write novels and plays, and his young son makes a cameo appearance in a novel by the young writer Shen Xiaofeng. Gao's whole family thus appears to have been captured by the pursuit of writing: but if this is their cage, it is the most expansive, least limiting cage there is.

Gao Yifeng's Bio:
Born in 1973 in Miaoli, Gao (also known as Kao Yifeng) studied law at the Chinese Cultural University. He has worked as a bartender, dancer, and playwright, and now edits a fashion magazine. He is married with one son. He has received numerous awards, including the Baodao Literary Prize, the Lin Rung-san Literary Prize, and the China Times Literary Prize. His works include This Cage Called Home, Scar Preface, Flesh Moth, Going Fast in Bright Light, A Gram of Sadness, and the TV-novelization Starry Starry Night.

Recommended Works:

Phantom Asylum (2011) Gao considers this his first novel (although Going Fast in Bright Light is arguably a novel in stories), and the first in a planned trilogy operating with the following constraints: "limited space + unlimited time," "unlimited space + limited time," and "partially limited space + partially limited time." In Phantom Asylum, there is no sense of passing time because all the characters have been sequestered in a place called the Bunker. Dali, the protagonist, misses his wife and children: he lives in an unreal environment controlled by an unknown force. He and the other inhabitants of the Bunker can only wait endlessly for an unknowable future. According to Gao, the Bunker is a projection of the fear and worry he experienced when living in Beijing. Although Phantom Asylum is not an easy read (one of Gao's earlier novels may be a better introduction to his work), it fully demonstrates the maturity of his craft.

"The Story Ah San Tells" from Scar Preface (2005) The theatrical quality or self-awareness of Gao's fiction is usually evident, even in his essays, but "The Story Ah San Tells" is one of the few pieces that truly blurs the line between fiction and drama. The story is a subtle and moving account of a boy from an orphanage, Ah San, and his complex relationship with his foster father. It is a notable instance of Gao's non-urban writing.

"Tiger" from Flesh Moth (2004) This story is about the final days of death row convict Xing Zai, and his executioner, Tiger. The death sentence itself is left unexplained, and we also never learn precisely how severe Tiger's chronic illness is. But the simple affection between the two men is deftly depicted, as is their interaction with the guards. Gao's signature move of freezing time works perfectly in this story, which won him the China Times Literary Prize.

4. Zhang Yixuan (Taiwan) – Intelligence and Precision in Fiction

by Sheng Haowei (trans. Jiang Chenxin)

Photo by Guo Yijun

I often catch myself returning to Zhang Yixuan's novels, unable to put them down. Her books are the sort that makes the reader come back again and again for more. Over a sixteen-year career (if one considers winning Unitas's First Book Award to marked its start), Zhang has written only five short stories, two novellas, and one novel. This may not add up to very many words, but it only goes to show that being prolific is no measure of an author's brilliance.
Consider the titles of her books: When Things Decay, The Best of Times, and Not In Love for Long. All three point to time and its corrosive effects. For Zhang, time is not linear: time is intervals, seasons; time itself takes time; it consists of milestones glowing along a vast, misty process. In this spirit, Zhang's stories also do not merely progress towards a clear resolution: the milestones in her stories appear, recede, and connect freely, yet they never seem disordered. The reader does not experience events in sequence or in reverse; you instead watch the author connect the dots until an event can be seen in its entirety, like a constellation. Zhang's work always illuminates aspects of the human condition: fondest memories, being in love, aging. For Zhang, these complex emotional states are her subjects of study. She uses lucid words and precise metaphors to help us understand the emotions her characters experience. Zhang's obvious intelligence in this is both impressive and reassuring. Her narrative posture is such that she neither surveys the fictional world from above nor self-indulgently drowns in it. This, to me, is the perfect distance.
When Zhang announced her arrival on the literary scene with When Things Decay, its portrayal of women (lesbians, especially) was hotly debated. This may have been the case because Zhang tells these tales of passion and youth in a jaded, worldly tone that is astute but a little too deliberately blasé. Yet this flaw all but disappears in her second book, The Best of Times. Its title story portrays a group of lesbian feminists in such delicious detail that it immediately rings true to anyone who has belonged to a feminist group. "In the Dust of Summer," this collection's second—and perhaps even better—story, plays with different points of view without losing its continuity or depth of emotion, and demonstrates Zhang's maturity as an author. As for Not In Love for Long, published last year: I was moved by how funny it was, and bold, and astute, and unpretentious. This book is also marked by its philosophical depth and narrative simplicity. As the author herself says, this is a book that you can "slip into your coat pocket in winter, or take along with your beach towel and sunblock to the seaside in summer." And because the subtlety and perspicacity of a book depends much upon the author, her style is nearly impossible to imitate, and Taiwan cannot hope for another Zhang Yixuan. Readers like me who have been mesmerized by her work can only wait for her next, perhaps even more mesmerizing book.

Zhang Yixuan's Bio:
Born in 1973 in Taipei, Zhang earned a Master's degree from the Department of Cinema and Audiovisual Studies at Paris III Sorbonne Nouvelle. She began to write stories and plays when she was a student at Zhongshan Girls High School. She later studied history at National Chengchi University, where she chaired the Society for Women Studies. In 1996, "Domestic Affairs" was awarded Unitas's New Author Award for Fiction. It won high praise from Li Ang, who sat on the judging panel that year. It was also selected for Avanguard's The Best Taiwanese Literature 1995-1996. Zhang's short story collections When Things Decay and The Best of Times were published by Rye Field in 2001 and 2003 respectively. Following an eight-year silence, her novel Not In Love for Long: Recollections of Nantes and Paris was published in 2011 by Unitas. She is also the author of the essay collections As a Suspected Feminist and The Unlikely Happy Art of Being in Love, as well as the short play Natalie, What are You Doing on this Earth?, among others.

Recommended Works:

Not In Love for Long: Recollections of Nantes and Paris (2011) How does a collection of memories become a novel? Is it possible for someone from Taiwan to love someone from France? What about a lesbian and a straight man, how can they love each other? This is a novel with many questions (is it a novel?), and a novel that never stops wondering: if love is "not for long," why bother recording it? Do refusing to express love and refusing to come out of the closet both prove the existence of the same thing? This book is hard to categorize but easy to fall in love with.

When Things Decay (2001) This collection includes five stories: "A Clan's Beginnings," "The Happy Haunted House," "A Story of Sex," "The Psychedelic Tablecloth," all about lesbian passion and love, and "Domestic Affairs," about domestic sexual violence. The psychological description in these stories may describe forms of decay, but the reader also powerfully senses that, in Zhang's own words, "when I am not writing stories I start decaying." Writing is a mode of resistance against decay, a way of turning oneself in, a form of salvation.

The Best of Times (2003) This book is about lesbianism and feminism on campus. In its portrayal of the pressures of life and love for a group of women at the university's gender studies department, each character is complex and believable; "In the Dust of Summer" contains a moving description of the relationship between former lovers. The book is ultimately about the process of growing up, which does not entail having to give up on dreams: rather, growing up means being able to turn away from the past, remembering it as "the best of times."

5. Lu Min (China) – Subtle Minutiae

by Zhang Li (trans. Yu Yan Chen)

Photo provided by the author

In April 1993, the novelist Su Tong went to the Xinjiekou Post Office in Nanjing to purchase a stamp depicting seniors playing chess and was attended by a young woman. Eighteen years later, this same woman recounted the meeting to Su Tong, now her special guest at the launch of her latest book, saying that though they were complete strangers at the time, she felt the spirit of literature in his presence and was so affected that she thought of resigning immediately to go home and write.
Having worked as a salesperson, clerk, public relations manager, journalist, and secretary, Lu Min's writing interests are broad and complex, the numerous worlds she depicts vast and open. Two settings recur: one is the distant, blurry and mythical rural world of Dongba that appears in No Evil Thought, The Song of Parting, Love Clippings, Page-Drunk, and Swallow's Letter. A fictive homeland reminiscent of the milieux described by Shen Congwen and Wang Zengqi, Dongba stands for simplicity and peace.
The other setting of Lu's stories is the complicated modern city, crowded with the unnoticed lives of postmen, broadcasters, doctors, spinsters, pigeon feeders, and librarians. In rendering these characters' lives, she takes care to detail their tiny but persistent afflictions (skin diseases, nausea, dizzy spells) and neuroses (compulsive lying, voyeurism). These descriptions provide access to her characters' inner world for, according to her,
These subtle minutiae have the power and impact of bullets, they penetrate our hearts and lives through a tiny hole invisible to the naked eye. Quietly, they determine our feelings and experiences for some part of our lives, even shaping our habits, our fortunes, our relationships with others and with ourselves.
She is just as sensitive to tiny movements in the sensory world:
Everything from ambiguous bed scenes between lovers, the complex gestures of tricksters, to the limpid tears of the despairing—once born, they assert their existence, they produce smells and sounds, they make air tremble and light dance. By chance, they are captured by another's sense organs; and then a secret is no longer secret, it instead blossoms into a complex flower. This is how the senses are expressed and controlled; it makes the world transparent, twisted, and dangerous.Lu's keen eye and inventiveness differentiate her from other writers of her age group and equip her to explore the abyss that we know to be the human condition. In fact, Lu may well be the leader of the new generation of writers looking to extend the artistic possibilities of contemporary Chinese fiction.

Lu Min's Bio:
Born 1973 in Dongtai, Jiangshu Province, she currently lives in Nanjing. Lu Min started writing at the age of twenty-five and has published novels such as Multiple Love Letters, The Steering Wheel, Undeliverable Feelings, and Dinner for Six. Her short story collections and novellas include Accompany the Feast, The Song of Parting, The Viewfinder, Stirring up the Dust, and Page-Drunk. She has been awarded the Zhuang Zhongwen Literary Award, the People's Literary Award, the Chinese Writers' Award, the Monthly Fiction Reader Award, the Selected Fiction Award, and was honored with the Lu Xun Literary Award in 2010. Her abundant literary achievements eventually made her the youngest Vice Chairperson of the Jiangshu Writer's Association and one of the "Top 20 Future Masters" as chosen by The People's Literature.

Recommended Works:

Viewfinder (2009) This short story collection includes many outstanding works such as "The Viewfinder," "No Evil Thoughts," and "The Gifts of the Deceased." As the jury statement of the 2007 Young Writers' Award stated: "'In The Viewfinder,' [...] [Lu] infuses the precise dramatic style with a languid, hard-to-describe complex set of experiences, exploring and presenting the structure, depth, and borders of the psychological world. In 'No Evil Thoughts,' [...] she confirms, with "tender kindness", the breadth of the human spirit, and the gravitas of human activity. [...] Between these two seemingly disjointed threads, Lu comes to an understanding of the vastness, the latitude of human nature."

Undeliverable Feelings (2010) A novel about "momentary love and lifelong pain." The year is 1987, and student Dan Qing meets Si Jia at a Christmas party. They develop an instant rapport both physically and spiritually; however, during the "Crackdown on Crime" campaign of the 1980s, Dan Qing is convicted of "hooliganism" and sentenced to death. Si Jia lives the rest of her life in the shadows, and Dan Qing's parents also become victims of the age. The novel recounts the 22 years spent by one woman in mental and physical exile.

Dinner for Six (2012) Lu Min's latest novel, described by the author as "the joys and sorrows of two single-parent families," tells the slapstick, carnivalesque story of six people suffering under the heavy shadow of the chemical industry and the great costs of materialistic advancement. As they seek to improve their circumstances, they are either limited by their congenital deficiencies or obsessed with illusory success; some hide under the sweet fragrance of unrequited love and go with the flow; some grow coarse and wither like wild grass; others forever struggle between private and public morality. These characters belong to the victimized middle/lower class, buried by the 'footsteps of progress.' The book is ultimately a feast in tribute of love and imperfection, honoring the majority who have failed in the dim twilight of lost time, 'success mania,' and increasingly cruel social stratification.

6. Xu Rongzhe (Taiwan) – Not the Solution, but the Solver of the Mystery
by Shen Xiaofeng (trans. Yu Yan Chen)

Photo by Lin Jiaying

"Chekov is dead and Calvino no more, only I am still alive!" Xu Rongzhe has said with glee. Clearly, this writer is full of hot air, comparing himself to such masters! Still, if you take a closer look, there's something to these lines that characterizes Xu's fiction: always having the final say.
What might this mean? Let's look at a pivotal scene from Wandering Lake, which describes the effect of the September 21 earthquake on a small Taiwanese village. A dying village elder asks to speak to protagonist Halinshi in confidence. But before the village elder can address Halinshi, he passes away without a word. This gives Halinshi a blank check—a final say, if you will—that no one can refute. Soon, whatever the village elder had wanted to tell Halinshi becomes irrelevant; instead the story centers on how Halinsi uses this opportunity to turn his fortunes around.
Indeed, what matters in Xu's fiction is not the solution but the mystery solver. Once the mystery is revealed, the story is dead. It's the characters who are alive that might actively shape the story, and propel it to its different possibilities. This is really what Xu goes back to over and over in his stories—it's at the core of his fiction. With a background in science and engineering, Xu is adept at solving mysteries but even better at setting them up. Using logic and reasoning, he designs mazes full of emotions and poetry, albeit with a heart of darkness. Yes, 'heart of darkness': I've said the key words. Readers familiar with Xu's works will not find 'heart of darkness' an implausible phrase to associate with his fiction. Though it forms a constant theme in his work, it represents the part of his narratives that is most difficult to understand or emulate, because it doesn't involve technique but deals with human nature. Character is fate, after all, as the saying goes. It takes uncovering layers and layers in order to get to the murkiest regions of human nature. In the case of Xu's fiction, this murkiness can take the form of a secret or even of a murder. It can be the compulsive lies of a student (Time Soaked in Formalin), a faked suicide (Why does No One Believe Me?), or the truth forever buried by the September 21 earthquake at the beginning of Wandering Lake.
However, story is not the only way to set up a maze. In later works, such as The Tale Regarding the Loss of Important Words and Novel Clock, Xu has mastered narrative logic, delivering the story's exposition through the use of narrative forms. His experimentation isn't willful; rather, he deconstructs the narrative in order to delay discovery of the story's core, its design purposely hiding or distorting the order of events. For example, a repeating scene in The Tale Regarding the Loss of Important Words symbolizes the passing down of tragic circumstance from one character to another. If a story succeeds at emotion only through accumulation of detail, this means readers accumulate details in the way that Xu intends them to, in a different way than in traditional storytelling; but in the end the heartbreaking story still gets across. At this point, the medium has become the story, the story the medium.
I have worked with Xu at camps for creative writing. Sometimes he is my boss, sometimes my partner. I have observed, close up, how he racks his brain to 'torture' the students (of course, only after the staff themselves have been tortured). Later I realized that Xu lives his life as a novel: for feelings to arise in people, there must be obstacles. Climax needs design, thus foreshadowing. How to open a story, how to transition from one movement to the next, how to tie up a conclusion—it's not so much neat resolutions he cares about, but the story that continues in the reader's mind after the curtain has fallen, post-dream. The reader thus no longer experiences just a game, but in fact a literary conundrum. Indeed, Xu knows this better than anyone: a good fiction is really a mystery—a mystery that tests the reader's understanding of the world.

Xu Rongzhe's Bio:
Xu was born in 1974 and holds two MAs: one in Engineering for Sustainable Environments from National Taiwan University and another in Creative Writing from National Dong Hua University. Formerly a member of the mischievous "8P" and an editor of Unitas Magazine, he is currently the Artistic Director of the Gengxin Youth Writing Program and the Editor-in-Chief of Siye Publishing. Besides fiction, he has written a paper on water reservoirs, several screenplays for movies and TV series, children's books, and several books on writing, including Lessons about Fiction. Many students see him as the passionate Teacher Ah Kai in the Naturo cartoons, but he is actually more like the clever villain Orchimaru. His most powerful work will emerge once he completes training in all the different ninjutsus.

Recommended Works:

Wandering Lake
The ingredients: an unfulfilled murder plot, a lake that can walk, a fool who turns into a clock, a teacher who loses her surname. These eccentric plots unfold cinematically, one by one. A novel that is ultimately about the riddle of time.

Hide and Seek (2002) Xu's award-winning debut short story collection displays his talent at using humor to deliver incredible tales. It caused Yang Zhao to compare Xu to Stephen King, and Giddens Ko to say he finally grasped "what award winning literary fiction is all about." However, it doesn't matter what the book taught Giddens Ko, it is more imperative that you hurry and get your own copy.

ㄩˋ一ㄢˊ [Fable](2004)From its title of phonetic notations alone, you'll know that the novel doesn't take itself seriously. Reminiscent of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the story consists of rowdy scenes from a journey, told from the point of view of children. Li Yongping points out that this sort of 'on the road' narrative is a fictional genre rarely encountered in Taiwan. The tone is absurd, the stories full of banter yet pregnant with allegory.

7. Zhang Yaosheng (Taiwan) – As Shadows Draw Closer

by Lü Kunlin (trans. Drew Dixon)

Photo provided by the author

Have you experienced the sudden recollection of a story you read many years before; the writer and the plot are unclear, but you still remember an image—an image rendered in words and meticulously imprinted on your retina? Such images often arise from reading Zhang Yaosheng's stories; one suspects they are simply waiting for a lapse of attention to invade and unsettle us.
In 2000, Zhang received the First Prize of the National Students Literary Awards for his short story "Icarus." After this came other prizes great and small and a whole host of achievements, but as his reputation grew, Zhang started to notice the disjunction between prizes and the larger literary environment. A writer who maintains a proper distance from the 'scene,' and who treasures the role of 'creator,' Zhang withdrew from the literary world after the publication of his short story collection Seam, to return eight years later with the novel The Woman on the Far Shore. In an interview with the China Times after the latter's publication, Zhang indicated that he will henceforth only write works that he wants to write.
Excepting differences in length and plot, what gives readers pause in both his latest and his debut is the two works' high degree of dramatization, to the point of producing an alternate, symbolic space. In these kinds of passages, the reader is made to feel anxious, disquieted; one even runs the risk of overlooking the blatantly forced narratives used to construct these very spaces.
Zhang's alternate spaces are painted in a base shade of umber and peopled with dismal, ghostly wanderers who are perhaps even possessed. Take the narrow garret of "Seam," or Room 420 of "The Blue Neckband" and "Friends"; then there are the funereal and labyrinthine forests of "Icarus," the overcast mountains in The Woman on the Far Shore—whether in a factory or along a mountain pass, shadows lie in wait.
In addition to these spaces, Zhang's work is also notable for the way his language communicates and interacts with contemporary poetry. For example, the wildly different tri-generation relationships enacted in Seam's titular short story seethe with ferocity and mutual cruelty, putting one in mind of Su Shaolian's poem, "Seven Foot Cloth." Su writes that "growth" is a completely ill-fitting mangle of flesh and blood that a mother fashions out of her child's very cloth—a gentle destruction filled with warmth. In "Seam," the grandmother and father face each other in a conflict that might as well be the final, fatal version of "Seven Foot Cloth"; all the reader can do is read on in dumb amazement and wonder: How did their quarrel turn into such absolute enmity?
Then all we see is the father tightly grasping a shadow with both hands and thrusting it, both feet on the sewing machine pedal, under the point of the needle. Repeatedly pierced by the needle, this shadow falls to the ground like scattered sand. Then, as pitch-black night rises around his feet, the father continues to pedal, piercing and shredding the grandmother's shadow with all his being, while the fallen fragments of the grandmother transform into a stream of water, a gauzy veil, a strip of black winding around the father and sewing him into a place beyond the physical world.
Perhaps it is our anticipation of these twisted human emotions, set down so assuredly by Zhang, that makes us willing to follow line after line into his alternate universes, even though we know they may be haunted. His nocturnal stories awaken in us repressed anxiety after repressed anxiety only to finally drive out all our fears—pitching a slow, firefly light of hope into the dark.

Zhang Yaosheng's Bio:
Born in 1975, Zhang Yaosheng is said to have been drawn to literature through fortuitous misreadings: In junior high, his mother sent him to buy some books about real estate, but he accidentally bought Zhang Dachun's novel Apartment Guide instead, and discovered fiction. Then, as a student of statistics at Tunghai University, he found a black cat on his balcony one early morning; then, consulting books on pet rearing, he came across Edgar Allen Poe's The Black Cat. He at once decided to transfer to the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature.

Recommended Works:

Seam (2003)
Zhang's first collection, comprising seven short stories, debates themes of familial love and friendship throughout. The denouncement of the school system, elevated to the level of symbol, is quite shocking and suggests in no uncertain terms Zhang's conviction that therein lie all the oppression and damage of growing up. Commenting on Zhang's work, Yuan Zhesheng says, "In his work, I feel as if I'm seeing him pick up the broken fragments of this world and sew them together carefully, with trembling hands and eyes full of pity."

The Woman on the Far Shore (2011) Sculptor characters frequently stand in for artistic creation. In this novel, Zhang's sculptor protagonist adds a lofty artistic devotion to the twisted pains and sorrows of his predecessors. Still, he is not immune to earthly entanglements and ends up turning into the coarsest of cynics.

8. Wenren Yueyue (Hong Kong) – Peace In An Age of Rootlessness

by Zhang Wanwen (trans. Drew Dixon)

Photo provided by the author

As someone of Wenren Yueyue's generation, her work—especially "The Gilded Age"—takes me back to the days of my youth, back to that teenage feeling of reading Yi Shu during my middle-school years.
The works of Yi and Wenren share many elements and themes: protagonists recurring in different stories; life abroad in Europe and America; educated and accomplished men and women who live in big cities; a dignified life of high salaries and cultivated tastes; the search for a bit of the bohemian lifestyle while still remaining firmly within one's comfort zone; and, most importantly, romances that, although not lacking for passion, having run their course, end amicably and peacefully, with neither side losing their cool or making a fuss—romances in which no-one could possibly break down crying, as that would mean a loss of dignity.
That's why reading "The Gilded Age" kept me up all night, even after I'd finished reading it. Although I am a middle-aged woman for whom romance has long become a thing of the past, that night I was overcome with a feeling I had not felt for a long time: a chaotic yearning churning about within me, like long-dormant butterflies fluttering in my stomach.
It took all my willpower to regain self-control. After all, I'm no longer young and to break down crying would have been a loss of dignity. Such is the "Gilded Age" of the middle aged.
Of course, Wenren and Yi are two distinct people. The former's artistic ambition is not to portray a particular type of people—such as modern urban women—but to capture an era, an entire generation. What resonates with people is that, while some writers set themselves up as prophets or moral teachers, Wenren does not. Her readers should not expect to receive words of wisdom or tidy aphorisms. And unlike Yi, Wenren does not take on an acerbic tone or attempt to expose hollowness from without. Instead of setting herself apart from her generation, Wenren walks with it, writes from within it.
And that generation is made up of those born in the 1970s, people from the so-called "Gilded Age," when the economies of mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong were taking off under relatively stabler political conditions. Wenren frequently draws upon the period of her childhood and adolescence in the 70s and 80s, her life in Hangzhou, friendships from school days, and settings such as her grandparents' cauliflower fields, along with the air raid shelters of that older generation. Wenren carried these experiences to New York, observing Manhattan, Taipei, and the rootlessness of young city-dwellers she met therein. Yet she does not step back from their lives to assess their values; Wenren is herself one of these people. She expresses the mixed feelings they all share. On the one hand, there is a sense of homesickness. On the other, there is the feeling of being rather well-suited to life abroad. And all of this is what is captured in the Chinese phrase, 'chuan lian,' i.e. 'making connections.'
'Making connections' is the main theme of Wenren's novel Huang Xiao Ai. The term originally referred to a country-wide youth movement that took place during the Cultural Revolution in which students roamed about the country riding trains free of charge. Wherever they went, they were received by the local student organizations and provided with free food and lodging. The movement's mood of romanticism swept across the whole country.
But the Cultural Revolution long became a thing of the past; and the post-adolescent form of 'making connections' of course cannot include free train fare, food, and lodging. However, this way of life—bouncing between cities, greeting everyone as if there were no one who wasn't already an old friend—is always present within Wenren's works, whether hidden in the background or clearly present in the foreground. The faint traces of a former era.
To the generation born in the 1970s, the Tian'anmen Square incident of 1989 constituted a deep connection, serving as a shared secret, an unspoken bond through which people can share an understanding without needing to speak a word. Similarly, September 11th let old friends who'd lost touch with one another come together again. And, in Wenren's "The Gilded Age," it even brings together new lovers:
Xiao Yi and I spent an entire afternoon praising the story, "Love in a Fallen City". It's not a typical beautiful fairy tale—it's full of helplessness. The war helped bring together the story's main couple, but rather than saying it was because of love, it implied that accepting a compromise is preferable to pursuing love. Since at that time, our lives had not yet fallen apart, we were in awe, feeling that the situation of having no way out had its own kind of beauty. I think that the love that Ni Chang and Chong Guang have is just an ordinary kind of love, and that this type is relatively better.
Huang Xiao Ai portrays what might be called a modernized romance: one that comes from one's own choices, not from being brainwashed by the values of the age, and the result of which mostly accords with one's expectations. And, I think that the novel's beginning and ending can be taken as emblematic of the feelings and expectations expressed in Wenren's work. At the beginning of the story, the first-person narrator is in a hotel room, at midnight, and receives a phone call from a stranger. By the end of the story, the stranger who called the narrator at the beginning—the character whose name provides the novel's title, Huang Xiao Ai—becomes one of the narrator's friends. That is why Wenren says, "At least the story's conclusion is not a terribly tragic ending."
The conclusion of Huang Xiao Ai is a moment of hesitation where an opportunity is lost. Whether this is for better or for worse, one cannot say. Wenren Yueyue's characters all attempt to hold on tightly to the past, while also trying to face an unknown future.

Wenren Yueyue's Bio:
As the author is always forced to explain (because the surname sounds unusual and the given name too fitting for an author): Wenren Yueyue is not a pseudonym but is in fact her real name. Wenren is a Zhejiang-province surname. Yueyue, or 'takes pleasure in reading' comes from her parents' hope that she would enjoy reading. Wenren Yueyue was born in 1975, in the city of Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. She worked in New York for ten years and now lives in Hong Kong. Though she studied electrical engineering as an undergraduate and finance in graduate school, the September 11th tragedy moved her to write. "The Gilded Age" was the result and won her the 2001 Unitas New Writers Prize for Novellas (First Prize).

Recommended Works:

Record of a Gold Rush
Wenren's most recent novel, one of Asia Weekly's "10 Notable Novels of 2011." The story takes up the theme addressed in her oeuvre: that of young adult friendships—but adds a new element: In a generation defined by a surging economy, no one wants to miss out on get-rich opportunities. At the same time, however, her characters long for authenticity and true connection, and are forced to make hard decisions.

The Gilded Age (2003) A collection of novellas and short stories comprising seven stories including the prize-winning "The Gilded Age." This collection, too, has recollections of young love, along with stories that take England and America as their settings. It is clear that it follows the trajectory of the writer's coming of age: from being a child in a relatively open, liberal, and prosperous setting, to going abroad and leading a life of even greater freedom, and then, after 9/11, confronting society's pitfalls and frailties.

Huang Xiao Ai (2005) A novel with two distinct narrative threads: one follows a first-person narrator who lives and works in New York; the other follows Huang Xiao Ai, who is growing up in western China. Aside from the difference in setting between these two narrative threads, there is also difference in time period—it's a novel that might be said to 'make connections across space and time.'

9. A Yi (China) – The Bullet that Cuts through Reality and Absurdity

by Mu Ye (trans. Helen Wang)

Photo provided by the author

A Yi is a writer who has known hardship. In the time he spent as a police officer, he encountered many corpses, each having met with a very specific and cruel death. The deaths' specificity was what made them real to him; their cruelty made them stories waiting to be told. In the short story "Never Meant to Kill," he tells one such tale, and even gives his real name (Ai Guozhu) to one of the dead people in the story.
An admirer of literature with depth and technique, A Yi's own work sparkles with intelligence. Life may cheat you, he has said, and it may go on cheating you, but you shouldn't cheat yourself. A Yi may not know which is the right way forward, but he has a high regard for the body—for its ability to react violently–, and for the human spirit and its propensity for independence. His stories have a common thread: Oppression and vulgarity are always defeated, freedom always the hard-earned prize....
One of the first people to notice A Yi's unique qualities was Luo Yonghao, who recommended his Stories of Grey for publication. In this collection, "Documents," "In Exile," and "Five Million Chinese Characters" are especially noteworthy; even the other stories that could have been executed with better rhythm, or could have been more convincingly told, have a brute force that is quite special.
From the start, A Yi, who has learnt from the masters, has also imitated them. For example, his The Bird Saw Me is reminiscent of the Grimms' fairytale "The Bright Sun Brings it to Light," in which a man who murdered a Jew for his money is ultimately captured after scorning the Jew's titular warning. Both stories tell of greed leading to bad luck, and of marrying and starting over in a new place. Both stories concern eyewitnesses, and show how psychological shadows can direct the divulging of secrets until all is finally exposed. In A Yi's story, the bird takes the place of the Grimms' sun but nonetheless echoes their story's strange rhetoric. Many similarities exist between the fairytale and A Yi's three-narrator novel, and no one can fail to see the great skill that has gone into transforming the former into a Chinese story and bringing it up to date.
In the chilling short story "First to Know," the introspective protagonists believe that life is just killing time between active and passive modes, between the intentional and the unintentional. If these characters seem to contain shades of Borges and Camus, A Yi would add Faulkner, Alessandro Baricco, and Isaac Bashevis Singer to the list of writers he takes a page from. Hemingway, Dostoyevsky, Marquez, Yu Hua, and especially Kafka are other acknowledged influences. Yet this should not be understood as stealing from these masters: as much as A Yi has familiarized himself with the style of these western greats, he has at the same time rooted his work in a Chinese reality. Far from being stiff copies, his works, rendered in an utterly contemporary voice, burst with personality and soul. No wonder Bei Dao praised him as one of the best novelists writing in Chinese today.

A Yi's Bio:
A Yi (real name Ai Guozhu) was born in 1976 in Ruichang, Jiangsu. A former police officer, he now works for a publishing house in Beijing. His work has appeared in the literary journals Today and People's Literature. He has written two volumes of short stories The Story of Grey and The Bird Saw Me, a volume of essays and fiction Speaking as the Emperor, and a novella Now What Should I Do? The recipient of a People's Literature short story award, A Yi was selected as one of the Top Twenty Authors of the Future. In April 2012 he won the Newcomer Award at the Chinese Literature Media Awards.

Recommended Works:

The Bird Saw Me (2010)
A stunning collection of ten stories for the 21st century. Notable works include "Never Meant to Kill" and "Valentine's Day Explosion," which are exquisite, as well as the excellent "First to Know."

Speaking as the Emperor (2011) This novel, intermingling fiction, poetry, and pithy one-liners ("The desert is so abstract it needs a few dry corpses to make it real"), has the feel of a blog. Containing the stuff of dreams, painful experiences, eureka moments, infatuations, and illusions, some pieces are 10 to 20 pages, others just 10 to 20 words.

Now What Should I Do? (2012) A widely commended tragic novella about a teenager who kills a schoolgirl on the day before the gaokao (the national exam that will determine his future). Eventually brought to justice, he tries to explain his actions before he is given the death penalty.

10. Gong Wanhui (Malaysia) – Life and Death Roadblocks in Time's Maze

by Huang Weishuang (trans. Poppy Toland)

Photo provided by the author

I first encountered Gong Wanhui's work when my university became part of the Internet community. I saw a poem he had published on the bulletin board system and an essay he had posted on his blog. He was quite active on the Internet back then and had a good reputation within Malaysian literary circles. His unique lyrical style left a deep impression on me.
It was later that I properly met Wanhui. I was studying at Hualien Dong Hwa University. He and his wife, Wanjun, were visiting and we were introduced by a friend. He was quiet and contained. Mostly he said nothing, just listened. Sitting there next to his wife, it seemed as if he had entered another world. Occasionally he would chip in a word or two before returning to that world.
At middle school, Gong, who was part of a writing group, got into Malaysia's Coconut House—a literary journal, as well as into the works of writers from Hong Kong and Taiwan. He also tried his hand at writing poetry and fiction. His mother was a writer and their house was filled with tomes by Malaysian Chinese writers, many of which he avidly read. Later on, he went to Taiwan to study art. Even when immersed in the world of painting, he still read and wrote; during this time, he sent in an entry for a writing competition organised by the Malaysia and Taiwan Alumni Association.
His artistic training would influence his writing style subtly. He would become a master of observation from the time he spent with the realist paintings he studied. In writing, he would begin first with an image in his mind, then work steadily to transform image into text. Detail became of utmost importance.
Writing constitutes Gong's response to the world — not in the way a mirror reflects reality but in the way a prism reflects light, "in all its different wavelengths, intertwined like the seven colours of the rainbow." Reality is ultimately subjective after all, contingent upon the perceiver's emotional state. Yet the world he describes so unassumingly in his writing also seems to exist completely on its own.
Skilled in a variety of genres—in fact, he was a prolific poet, before getting into fiction—Gong is a rarity among Malaysian Chinese writers.
It was The Room Next Door, which won the 26th United Daily News Literature Prize (Prose), that made him a familiar name to Taiwanese readers. In this work, he challenges death and calls it fabricated thought. In some passages, the amount of remembered detail is astounding; it is almost as if language were his defense against unstoppable Time. Gong, whose parents have passed on, has said, "Art is not only a form of defence. Perhaps it is more a form of love, a form of reconciliation, a form of talking about the past."
Gong's work moves away from the imagery commonly portrayed in Malaysian Chinese literature, the tropical terrain, the rain forests, the rubber plantations. Instead he is interested in the concept of 'space': the space of memory, spaces retrieved from the past. They might be: a nook under an altar, holes in the wall, a dormitory. Through his magical, somniloquacious descriptions, these spaces become frosted up, tightly sealed, as if in a time capsule.
But above all, Gong seems to turn to writing for answers about life's meaning, in the face of mortality. Time is a labyrinthine construction in his fiction, visited by dreams; Time is, as he describes it, viscous, and slow, and stagnant. Obstacles—that he has placed himself—slow him down even further. Within such a construct, Gong the writer, who cannot bring himself to forget, gazes around everywhere.

Gong Wanhui's Bio:
Gong Wanhui was born in Malaysia in 1976, although his family originated from Jinjiang, Fujian province. In 1996 he moved to Taiwan, where he studied at National Taiwan Normal University's Department of Fine Arts. The First-Prize winner of Taiwan's United Daily News Literature Prose Awards, Gong also won First Prize in the Malaysia Hua Zhong Prize for Literature Novel and Prose Awards several times. His publications include The Room Next Door (fiction), The Morning School Bus (a collection of essays), and Lighter than Loneliness (a book of paintings). Together with Weng Wanjun, he  co-authored a music and lifestyle magazine called Rewind. He is currently engaged in writing and painting full-time.

Recommended Works:

The Room Next Door (2006) Gong's debut, collecting the literary pieces written during his days in the university up till 2005, including the work that won him the United Daily News Literature Prose Award. Several writings here straddle the line between fiction and essay.

Morning School Bus (2007) According to Gong, "This book recreates all my schoolboy memories. But much of it is fiction as well." Consisting of 63 nostalgic short pieces, the collection showcases Gong's lyricism and penchant for detail.

Rewind (2007) A music and lifestyle magazine co-authored with fellow Malaysian Chinese writer Weng Wanjun, collecting their newspaper columns on music. Lyrically written.  
translated from the Chinese by "And Other Stories Chinese Reading Group" members

11. Egoyan Zheng (Taiwan) – Dreams, Eyes and the Erotic
by Ma Yihang (trans. Emily Jones)

Photo by Chen Zhifan
When I came across the book Man In The Urn, I was going through a dark, difficult period. The author, Egoyan Zheng, had written on the flyleaf, "Dedicated to my five years at university: those 1,800-plus days in which I acquired no degree and ultimately achieved nothing." I instantly developed a crush on him. I photocopied a picture of the young Zheng from a literary magazine, where he was dressed in a checked shirt, with black hair neatly parted to the side; so very different from his slightly dispirited manner today. Until a few years ago, when I was with my friends, I would occasionally get distracted and take out the picture to examine his fine, swallow-tail shaped eyes, wondering what tricks and desires were concealed behind them. Drawn to the images that Zheng, through his writing, had fixed, frozen, transferred and destroyed, I would think back to those rooms in Zheng's story, 'Man In The Urn', emitting from their doorways a vein-like blue; then a flash of nakedness, followed by a complete whiteout...Then, when I read his novel The Dream Devourer, which seemed to contain within it all the sorrows of the universe, I noticed some themes starting to link up and propagate.

A most sordid reader, I hunted for clues to the author's private, sexual inclinations. The agitation of light and shadow during an interview with a porn star in 'Sacrifice', or the lustful screams and pained confessions in a porn film in The Dream Devourer—in these, erotic language, even if practiced, acts all the same as a vehicle of desire and experience. Zheng's books are not an easy read—but the writing, translucent and refractive as mineral ore, also rewards with loving caress and tender respite. In short, grief and ecstasy are the extremes of his work, and to read him is to vacillate between the two.

Pornography is also present as a poignant detail of indigenous Taiwanese night-market life in Sacrifice, or as a reenactment of classical desire excluded from a future time-space; the missing piece of the experiential puzzle faced by biochemical Man in The Dream Devourer. So what does the pornography symbolise? It's tempting to ascribe the intensity of visual imagery in Zheng's work to the "explosive" style of Taiwan's new generation of writers, but there are some key points of difference. Aside from his habitual use of onomatopoeia and visual devices, such as over-exposure or whiteouts, the visuals/politics of his work may be categorized in relation to such discourses as: surveillance and the machine of power (punishment by degradation?), the body and performance (the biochemical porn star?), the ethics of observation/narration (transplanting pornography into the dreamworld?), ceremonial violence and pleasure (ancient rites and folk customs?). However, I believe that all these complex themes point toward a primal sorrow inherent to existence, memory, experience, and the sense of 'I came, I saw (or didn't see), I conquered (or am conquered by)—the sorrow of being born human (or a biochemical being), felt during the process of re-creating (or dissolving?) the sense of sight. Let me say a few more words about Zheng's treatment of pornography: I believe we are all erotic beings, but considering the abundance of metaphors in pornography—the drawing out of the subjective viewpoint, the magic trick of freezing time, the close focus on small details while obscuring the full picture, the repeated purification and destruction—his writing goes beyond mere eroticism.

If all literary works deal with memory in some way, then what is distinctive about Zheng's treatment of it are his infinite conjurations, as in a séance, of some wondrous memory or other, brilliantly apparent in his short story collection, Man In The Urn. Through scenes that reflect, transform, then cast aside one another, scenes that fabricate and envelop, a fantastical, desolate tone is invoked, as if the author had purposely led the reader astray to secret rooms in the crevices of time. The opening story in Man In The Urn, 'Story Masquerading as Authorial Response', gives strong evidence of a tendency to subvert the relationship between reader and writer. 'Sacrifice', 'Tortoise Urn', 'Ghost Urn' and the titular 'Man In The Urn' are linked not only by the particular rhythm and quality, formed from a blend of classical language and dialect, but also from the way human love and loss are brought to life in between dreams and ghosts. The "Urn" of the story's title is also a coffin, hiding things that lie beyond the indigenous world. Zheng's writing is at once absolutely economical and luxuriant, making him more resistant to interpretation than other writers of his generation.

The Dream Devourer is an extraordinary, technically complex work of science fiction. It lays out infinite reflections of the self, spirit and dreamworld, repeatedly examining the morality of memory and technique. Perhaps Zheng is testing the reader's strength of imagination by creating a weave of technical terms as intricate as a Persian carpet. The complexity of the novel doesn't end there, since bound up in the science fiction capsule is an endless sense of nostalgia and political allegory; the protagonist's nightmares are actually our dreams, just like the ambiguity, at the novel's end, of return, self-consumption, dissipation and propagation. In the end, the reader is left questioning if the author's dreamworld is born from the words themselves, or if the work should be interpreted as a sort of public declaration towards memory and writing—in the same contentious vein as torture or masturbation.

I am eager to draw more attention to Zheng's poetry collection Your Light Shines Through My Eyes, to the insights and conjurations that flow from his brown pupils, the dense yet slightly magical poetic stills, and scenes that lean toward lost plots. The dream in the urn; the urn in the dream. This is my version of Zheng: of the future literary canon, his are undoubtedly the most difficult pair of eyes to watch; the most expressive form of pornography.

Egoyan Zheng's Bio:
Egoyan Zheng (real name Zheng Qianci) was born in 1977. He studied at both the Department of Psychology at National Taiwan University and at the School of Medicine at Taipei Medical University, and then obtained an MA in Chinese Literature from Tamkang University.

His writing has been published in the "Newcomer Award" collection and nominated for the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2007 and the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award in 2008. Zheng's publications include the short story collection Man In The Urn, the long novel The Dream Devourer and the poetry anthology Your Light Shines Through My Eyes.

The cool, yet emotionally expressive, quality of Zheng's work has a rhythm that is sometimes relaxed and at other times deliberately fractured. His fascination with memory, setting and interpersonal relationships reveals itself in the uniquely melancholic tone of his early works. In The Dream Devourer, the sophistication and eloquence of the science-fiction narration demonstrates a "post-human epic" ambition and energy, which gestures towards the origination of existence and destruction, the complexity of memory and forgetting, and the core of emotional expression and its opposite.

Recommended Works:

The Dream Devourer
 In this novel, Zheng almost flaunts his mastery of metaphor, as well as his ambition and skill with the art of fiction. The mystery of the biochemical being "K"'s experience, the city of the giant leeches and glistening reptiles, the disorder and dizziness of false words and a maze of knowledge, the virus program of memory, the almost political allegory of the "Third Person"—these are not just the Cyborg aesthetics of our descendants, or the absolute illusion of the novel to end all novels—but rather an attempt to use biochemistry to express epic emotions, to invoke nostalgia through science fiction. The world he creates is a dreamworld island (the northern shore like the Milky Way and the pupils of the eye, and the blue child YiYi), a world where it is time—not reproduction—that causes sadness.

Man In The Urn (2003) Man In The Urn, a collection of stories, is Zheng's first publication. From these eleven short pieces, he demonstrates the quality of his dark, ambiguous humour, laying bare the interweaving of desire, body, destiny and ceremony to create something which is part confession, part parable. Regardless of whether it is labelled "neo-nativist" or "post-nativist" literature, or whether the slightly desolate tone is comparable to that of his literary predecessors (such as Qi Dengsheng, Tiao He, Luo Yijun and Yuan Zhesheng), this collection boasts undeniable experimentalism. Zheng invokes highly effective, timeless visual devices. Writing and dreams, crevices and coffins; it is the urn in the urn, the tricks and prophecy of youth spread out before our gaze.

12. Tong Weige (Taiwan) – The Rainclouds of Emotion and Philosophy
by Zhu Youxun (trans. Emily Jones)

Photo by Chen Peiyuan

One claim I have never believed is that after an author diligently absorbs knowledge—particularly about literary theory—he becomes a "scholar", and in so doing loses the sincerity and "halo" that an author ought to have. Tong Weige refutes such a claim. I was once fortunate enough to hold a private conversation with him, and was encouraged to raise several research topics of current interest in Taiwanese literature. He replied gently, "Yes, I tend to agree with so-and-so's theories, because...." That was a truly horrifying moment for me because I realized that compared to Tong, who was able to discourse freely about the theories du jour, I was far behind the latest research.

After this, I considered his three novels in some confusion. If scholarly discussions aim to shine a penetrating light into literature, then these books are most obstinate rainclouds.

This explains why it is so difficult to categorise Tong's novels within a single framework. Though he was originally classified as a "neo-nativist" he clearly differs from others with the same label. In his brilliant preface to Tong's The Unwounded Age, author Yang Zhao places him in the context of "nativist literature"—an insight that satirically highlights an even more obvious difference between Tong's work (particularly in the story "The Loser") and the work of authors like Gan Yaoming. Shortly after this book came out, the first MA dissertation on Tong appeared, by Huang Jianfu. Those with a serious interest in studying Tong should read this outstanding essay. Huang suggests, on the other hand, that Tong's novels should not be constrained within a "nativist" framework because his other concerns would be obscured. However, attempting to address the nature of Tong's other concerns is fruitless, and discarding the "neo-nativist" label does not necessarily make things any clearer. The raincloud remains a raincloud: after reading his novels, the mental downpour is still relentless.

As far as I'm concerned, there is no doubt that from his very first collection, My Late Father, Tong's writings have demonstrated his maturity as an author. It is exceedingly rare to find this quality in the recent generation of writers.

From the obscure short stories collected in My Late Father, Holiday, Cheerfulness and Shadow, we see evidence of a writer who invokes philosophy and manipulates emotions. By the time we get to The Unwounded Age and Summer Downpour, the obscurity is intensified even more, until finally character and plot form a deep, endless fog. However, Tong doesn't deal with conventional emotions like nostalgia. Confronted with the absurdity of life, his characters often react indifferently. Unlike their counterparts in sentimental stories who might say, "OK, I forgive you," Tong's characters go a step further—while they might also say, "OK, I forgive you," they will then add, out of helplessness: "(I hope you'll do the same.) If not, what else can we do?"
Far from overblown and coarse, Tong's work demonstrates both the art and compassion of a real writer. Tong writes about death, life, and jokes that can't be laughed at. His writing appears simple, but when taken as a whole it reads profoundly. Depth of emotion is abundantly present in his novels and expressed in almost straightforward language. Tong's distinctive style should place him alongside the novelist Yuan Zhesheng and not far from Guo Songfen.

In his work he tries to capture things that can only be captured appropriate to the language of fiction in a style of persistent reflection. His stories are near-fables (but fables with more than one possible interpretation.) Readers of his work must face on their own the self-abnegating journey in 'The Holiday', the mother-and-son duo who run an entire factory by themselves in The Unwounded Age, the artificial limb buried in Summer Downpour. After being struck by the lightning of these scenes, readers may be moved, even as they are hard-pressed to explain what the stories were about. To do so, they would have to resort to recounting the scenes from beginning to end. Tong's writings are a researcher's nightmare, but a reader's joy; his is the sort of fiction that justifies the existence of the art form itself.

Tong Weige's Bio:

Born in 1977, Tong Weige has an MA in Drama from Taipei National University of the Arts, and is now studying there for his PhD. His writing style is consistently distinctive and his work focuses on the poor mountain villages in northeast Taiwan. He is therefore often categorized as a nativist by many critics. His novels can be said to explore Taiwanese modernism, but without the clumsiness of its form. He has published a collection of short stories, My Late Father, and the novels, The Unwounded Age and Summer Downpour.

Recommended Works:

Summer Downpour
 Every character is in this book is old, wrinkled, mouldy—they have been soaked too long in water. In The Unwounded Age, one can roughly trace the structure and plot, but this novel defies explanation. And yet there is no real need for explanation. With such epigrammatic dialogue and so many thought-provoking scenes, it is as if these glittering fragments emerge unbidden, filling the stream of the novel with beautiful stones, much like a scroll-book that one can open and read at any point.

My Late Father (2002) Although Tong Weige's first collection includes a number of prize-winning stories, readers will find they fail to conform to the conventions of the 'prize winning' canon. Even the most stubborn of critics will find these stories hard to put down. Tong Weige excels at describing little fragments of everyday life. In so doing, he unobtrusively transforms these moments into exceptional descriptions of life's unsolvable deadlocks.

The Unwounded Age (2005) This is a condensed family saga, laid out in such a way that it becomes almost metaphorical—there are few characters, the time span of the novel is not very long and it is almost as if not a single positive thing ever occurs. But somehow, it becomes a metaphor for so much more. In The Unwounded Age, Tong Weige explores his idea of human life. For him, it is about struggling to live in the face of being doomed to (amusing) defeat. In the second half of the novel, Tong poignantly describes the enforced reconciliation of the mother and son—reading his depiction is like staring at someone apparently intact but bleeding to death inside.

13. Han Lizhu (Hong Kong) – Allegories of an Unreal City
by Shen Xiaofeng (trans. Christopher Elford)

Photo provided by the author

You feel a bit crazy for enjoying Han Lizhu's novels, if only because it is like falling in love at first sight. Her collection of short stories, The Kite Family, won the 20th Annual Unitas Literary Award for Best Medium-Length Work of Fiction by a New Writer. The title story tells of a family suffering from hereditary obesity. Their only means of escape is to transform into kites. The Kite Family was the first work of hers I read, a collection which is everywhere filled with absurd ideas and symbols: endless piles of excess fat, relics plundered from a stomach, skulls drilled onto walls by construction workers. Despite the anti-real world being described, Han's style is lucid and unadorned, even sober. In her reticence, she turns reality inside out—before our very eyes, the world is twisted into something else entirely. What exactly is going on in this woman's head? I often found myself thinking, bowled over by her formidable style. It was as though I was encountering a sinister lover; I sensed that something deep within her was becoming one with me. But I would misread her work again and again, unable to grasp all of her symbols. In the end, I became painfully aware that my enchantment was shot through with a feeling of uncertainty.

Born in 1978, Han was a rather precocious child. She finished her first book while still attending middle school. In The Water Pipe Forest, she draws an analogy between the "sick" plumbing of Hong Kong's residential skyscrapers and an intestinal disorder. Drawing its energy from the teeming metropolis of Hong Kong, this debut publication bears the signature of her later work.

Aside from her native land, her oeuvre also tackles contemporary social structures and human relationships. Several of the stories included in The Kite Family—'The Forest Chair,' 'Record of a Cold' and 'Tragic Hotel'—speak to the necessity of taking on roles in social life. How does a person become a chair? Can those who have lost everything in a disaster recover through companionship? When a mother leaves, can the new members hired to fill her place reconstitute family? In rebuilding their relationships, these characters discover for themselves the absurdity of existence.

This absurdity is further explored in the novel Body Seam, in which two adults are not only paired up, but literally sewn together. This metaphor for marriage is smuggled into the novel via what the author terms an "extremely realistic" treatise, making an already absurd conceit even more absurd. By intermingling the real and the unreal, or rather: lightly erasing their boundaries, Han plumbs the nature of interpersonal relationships and even the paradoxes of the social system itself. In another novel, Grey Flower, three generations of women repeatedly attempt to escape the restrictions of society by fleeing into a dreamscape—a strategy that leads to their total disintegration. Outwardly about Malaysian-Chinese exiles, the story is really an account of the exile of modern man. Han's great virtue is that she never criticizes, never attempts to explain. Instead, she simply blurs reality to create a kind of "modern allegory" of existence.

It is perhaps this signature "blurriness" that will help Han to endure as one of Hong Kong's new-era writers. More specifically, I am enamored by the way in which she creates a Han-ian alternate universe by demolishing the world that we know only to reassemble it from scratch. If Han's writing places us in a strange and pathological space, her approach is nonetheless understated. What is strange is not the writing itself but the atmosphere; the reader stands assuredly in one spot, while around him the universe expands infinitely.

There are novels we return to over and over but never completely grasp. We think we've come close to understanding them, but after a few years have passed and we read them again, we feel shut out once more. This curious phenomenon should not be explained away by failure on the part of the reader or the writer. It rather demonstrates that these books have their own lives: that their plots and ideas are so deeply intertwined that the work cannot be summarized. They are simply what they are. Han's novels belong to this category of fiction.

In his preface to The Kite Family, Dong Qizhang writes that Han reminds him of Kafka, who also gives us strange but familiar fictional worlds. From the ground of the real, both Kafka and Han persistently cultivate the flowers of the absurd to dissect the nature of human existence. But compared to Kafka's writing, Han Lizhu's work is possibly even more poetic. When readers open Kafka's door, they see a salesman who awakens one morning to discover that he has been transformed into a strange bug. But Han Lizhu has no door. As she peels away reality's facade, we get a sense that this "unreal" allegory is deeply real. She writes about human beings and nothingness with such clarity, using poetry to build an intoxicating labyrinth. We can make our way through it, but not without getting lost time and time again.

Han Lizhu's Bio:
Born in 1978 in Hong Kong, Han Lizhu began writing at the age of ten. Dong Qizhang has said that she "possesses an innate and precociously odd tactile sense of the world." She finished her first work, The Water Pipe Forest, while still in middle school. After graduating from university, she worked for a few years before deciding to dedicate herself completely to writing. Of her work currently in print in Taiwan, her collection of short stories The Kite Family, her novel Grey Flower (which won Honorable Mention in Third Annual Dream of Red Mansions Literary Awards), and Body Seam all display her distinctive "anti-realist" aesthetic. Han Lizhu currently teaches creative writing and accepts interviews. In 2011 she went to America to attend the University of Iowa's International Writing Program. At present, a number of magazines based in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong feature her columns. At the same time, she attempts to retain some "freedom of choice" for herself and her work.

Recommended Works:

Body Seam
 What exactly does it mean to be intent on living with someone else for the rest of your life? It means we must find the proper place for our hands and feet and re-adjust our sleeping positions. Although the wound between us may occasionally cause us pain, we must not try to understand it. We don't reject it, we don't regret it, because the price of separation would be too great. If we were truly to respect what society views as a "binding agreement" and joined our bodies as one, would it really satisfy us? Even if we were joined completely, it would have nothing to do with love.

The Kite Family (2008) In this collection of six exceptionally well-written short stories, which describe people, space and the relationships that connect all of society, we see Han Lizhu overturn familiar notions in favor of a Kafkaesque sense of the absurd and the ridiculous. Family members can be swapped. Emptiness following a tragedy can be turned inside out. The body can transform itself at will. Everything we have become accustomed to can be redefined. If we were to step out onto this un-real plot of ground and live out our days, we would perhaps first have to call into question the very nature of man's existence.

Grey Flower (2009) Using her own maternal grandmother as a model, Han writes of a 5th generation Chinese woman living in Malaysia and her attempts to flee the country. She wanders endlessly in exile, unable to find a suitable place to call home. This story has a certain historical flavor, but as Xie Xiaohong has written, "If we put this novel's several generations' worth of characters on the Chinese mainland; if we placed the rubber forests of the Malay archipelago alongside the immigrant experience of the port cities, we can easily understand this work as a Malaysian immigrant's long-suffering story, and that would be enough to make us feel uneasy."

14. Ge Liang (Hong Kong) – Writing Destiny and Mankind
by Zheng Zhengheng (trans. Christopher Elford)

Photo provided by the author

Ge Liang's pedigree is distinguished, to say the least. Hailing from Nanjing, his lineage is riddled with famous names—Chen Duxiu and Deng Zhangxian are his great-uncles; Ge Kangyu his paternal grandfather. In their shadows, it is all too easy to imagine Ge Liang's own success as something hereditary. But Ge forged his own path, studying Chinese at Hong Kong University before completing his doctoral research into Yan Geling's emigrant novels, and into the relationship between Wang Anyi's work and urban life. Afterwards, Ge became Assistant Professor in the Chinese department at Hong Kong Baptist University, retains this post while continuing to pursue his writing to great acclaim. Though a long time resident of Hong Kong, Ge has a broad appeal, not least in Taiwan where Unitas, Wheatfield, and INK have all published his works. Having moved around in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the Chinese Mainland before settling in Hong Kong, Ge's chosen home has become something of a trope for the author, with the city thinly veiled throughout his work. Ge has written five volumes of fiction—no small number. (His novel, Rosefinch, extends to some five hundred pages alone.) His output is a sort of anomaly among young Hong Kong writers. The spectre of Dong Qizhang's massive novels had taught a generation of writers to snipe at longer works, and aim for forceful concision instead. But, along with his distinguished family background, it is Ge Liang's experiments in long form that set him apart him from the rest of Hong Kong's young writers.

Ge Liang first made his name with Enigma, which garnered praise for the precision and weight of its language. The novel's setting is vaguely reminiscent of Hong Kong: a generic cityscape, with no distinguishing features or characteristics. But beneath the order of this urban façade, mysterious elements conspire—not least among them Enigma, the tellingly named crow that lends the novel its title. For a young couple, the act of raising this bird brings about a series of earth-shattering changes, entwining their individual fates into the same, single thread. There is a danger that such novels can buckle under their own ever-intensifying narratives, but Enigma is resilient, weaving itself together through cinematic sequences, and straightforward, considered language. Li Shixue called Enigma the "best and most recent representative of new academic fiction in Chinese letters"—a prescient statement as Ge's more recent novels have gone on to prove, reveling as they do in knowledge, research, and language, as well as a deep communion with culture.

An expanded edition of Going Our Separate Ways, which added two new stories to the original five, was published as the collection Seven Tones. These stories have a tremendous humanity about them; or, to be more specific, a certain folk sensibility—a perceptiveness that the author openly acknowledges in his preface. "One by one," Ge writes, "they passed me by, and bore witness to the changes of the years. I was willing to stroll through the orbit of my earlier years, and use a pair of much younger eyes to look at these long lost people and events. All that I saw gave me a feeling, perhaps of intimacy and purity, perhaps of dejection and distress, perhaps even of deep agitation. But there was always a kind of authenticity. The authenticity contained undertones of sympathy―it brought solace." Of the pieces assembled in Seven Tones, 'An's Story' (also called 'Going Our Separate Ways') is the most outstanding piece for capturing Ge's "authenticity". Its characters are vivid, its observations true, the story brims with the giddiness of youth, depicting scenes of campus life (including the carefree antics of students), and the wax and wane of friendships.

Li Heshi, Han Shaogang, Zhang Ruifan, Chen Guanzhong, and Tao Randeng—talented writers such as these have all written in praise of Ge's work, but his oeuvre is equally resonant with young writers on the Internet who are more and more engaged with his books and who are beginning to explore intriguing avenues of criticism, such as Wang Dexie with his recent essay "Return of the Unseen Rosefinch—Ge Liang's Rosefinch". Indeed, for inspiring criticism, the novel Rosefinch undoubtedly offers itself as Ge's most ambitious to date. As in Enigma, Ge displays his skill for putting highly controlled and economical language to the service of rich narratives and his gift for bringing characters to life—creating a vast array of personalities, each with purpose, substance and shape. Little wonder then that Wang Dexie writes in his essay, "[Ge's] stories are both touching and complex; they engross the reader, perhaps even trap him in the maze of the narrative. Young writers are often eager to please, which can make them want to say too much, but there must be another way to view Rosefinch's excess of coincidences and complex structures."

In his most recent work, The Year of the Drama, Ge returns to the style of Seven Tones and Enigma, with its steady pace and emphasis on character. When you open The Year of the Drama, you immediately see the author's introduction, a retrospective entitled 'These Last Few Years', in which Ge reflects on how he has grown over the past decade; on all that he has written, and on all that he has felt. He nostalgically roams the dormitory halls of Hong Kong University, Taiping Mountain, High Street, the Northwest District, and even finds himself searching out two of Changzhou's islands. Finally, in his plainspoken fashion, we find him directly addressing the sum total of his experiences in Hong Kong. "These Last Few Years" is a uniquely personal essay and certainly the most affecting evocation of Hong Kong Ge has yet written. In it, he declares that, "Having lived in this city for so many years, finally, I have sentiment for this sea." Truly the thoughts of a traveler—a traveler who fixes his gaze on unchanging human nature, so that nothing passes him by.

Ge Liang's Bio:
Born in 1978. Originally hailing from Nanjing, he now lives in Hong Kong. Received his PhD in Chinese from Hong Kong University. Currently holds a position at Hong Kong Baptist University. His writings have been published in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Mainland China. Author of the short story collections Year of Drama, Enigma, Going Our Separate Ways, the novel Rosefinch, and the essay collection Sketches. Winner of the 2008 Hong Kong Arts Development Award, the 1st Hong Kong Book Award, the Unitas Literary Award for Best Short Work by a New Author, and The Liang Shiqiu Literary Award, among other prizes. His works were chosen by Wheatfield Publishing for their anthologies "Contemporary Chinese Novelists,""21st Century Chinese Literature,""2008-2009 Best Chinese Fiction," as well as their "Quality Selections". His long novel Rosefinch was picked by Asia Weekly as one of the ten best novels of 2009.

Recommended Works:

Seven Tones
 A collection of seven stories, mostly focused on the lives of ordinary people. With the exception of 'Zither', which is concerned with the emotions involved in being a grandparent concerns the feelings of grandparents, each story takes the name of the main characters as its title. 'Zither' and 'An's Story' are the outstanding stories of this collection. The expanded Hong Kong edition of Going Our Separate Ways is the only one that contains 'Ada and Steve', a story about a tragic fight for the "right of abode" in Hong Kong.

Enigma (2006) 'Enigma', the titular piece of this collection of seven short stories, won the 2006 Unitas Award for Best Short Story By A New Author. The story proceeds cautiously under the cover of its tranquil prose, until it suddenly sends shivers down your spine. As Ge Liang himself has remarked, it is a story of fate, of the way in which reality ruthlessly bores its way into life, revealing its fragile core; a theme which runs through the entirety of this collection. 'River Without a Shore' and "Material Life" both have an academic flavor while 'The 37th Floor: A Love Story' takes the start of the Cultural Revolution as its backdrop.

The Year of the Drama (2011) A collection of four short stories, mostly linked in some way to history. 'The Clay Lord' recounts the experiences of a sculptor. 'Ying Zhu', a story of travel through Sichuan and Tibet, should be read alongside the preface to Seven Tones entitled 'Their Voices'. In 'William', the main character falls in with a Chinese-Canadian man named William and from there, a deeper story about heritage develops. 'The Year of the Drama' is a novella that tells the story of childhood and adolescence as seen through the movies, and gives the history of several decades of Chinese cinema as seen through the personal experience of one man.

15. Huang Liqun (Taiwan) – Stories Told in a Dark Cave
by Chen Yuxuan (trans. Poppy Toland)

Photo provided by the author

I read Huang Liquan's Welcome to the Dollhouse as part of a fiction module back when I was a graduate student. I saw the novel, with its protagonists Uncle Ah and the unnamed she, as obscenity blended with agility, while its indulgence in corporeal beauty forced me to consider the writing at every level, unsure exactly how to comprehend what I had just read. Love and possession form the two pillars of the female protagonist's existence. It is an existence so anguished that the reader experiences an unbearable itch, wishing to reveal everything to her. Paralysed and bedridden, she can't even respond to her boyfriend's e-mails. Her interface with the world reduced to only fingers, she can't even get out of bed by herself. In her newly disabled state, she learns commitment to the depths of her room. This cross she bears ruins any chance she has of happiness.

But it seems this isn't possible.

Huang Liqun's knifework is not the finest, but her strokes are most precise. It's unlikely that readers new to her work will understand what is written between her lines; their interpretations will probably be riddled with confusion. It is not that Huang hides things; she says everything that needs to be said. It is all in her precision plotting, the mise-en-scène of her characters, treated with great patience. In Cat Disease, for example, the plight of the cat, Meimi, changes the cat's owner from the subject to the object of the book. She appears to be taking her sick cat to the vet, but the reader already knows the prognosis. Huang's method is to show you the tip of a knife she is partially concealing. You know it is going to stab someone, but you keep turning the pages, often in tears.

In 'The Fortune-Teller', the protagonist makes predictions about life and death, none of which come true (don't they say that the secrets of the heavens can never be divulged?) Instead his life is filled with suffering. Most tragically, his own son, who has known him as an uncle from childhood, is unable to accept the truth when it is revealed to him, and yells: "Don't come any closer, I'm warning you, come no closer." Like lines written into the palm of one's hand, there is no changing one's future, no avoiding the hardships in store. This is one of what father and son realize, when they face each other for the first time, identities revealed.

When reading Huang Liqun's fiction be warned—you won't get any comfort from soft whispers. Rather, you can count on one page in this book (about love or illness or disfigurement) stopping you in your tracks, leaving you torn and unsettled.

In some of her earlier works, Huang shows signs of immaturity, and even now, her work shows a clever playfulness, an undiminished childishness, often put on for the sake of the reader. She positions these interludes in the parts of the cave where visibility is at its lowest, allowing readers a chance to understand its darkest depths.

Opening a book of hers is like entering an unexplored cave. There are people far ahead of you, and what sounds like footsteps behind you, although the echoes give nothing away about who is coming. It's just you, on your own, inside the cave, passing by a series of mural characters cloaked heavily in their stories, their stances ultimately pitiable. This sense of solitude is heightened by Huang's technique of avoiding names or surnames, of referring to her characters as simply 'you,' 'I,' or 'he.' You suspect that their creator is brimming with compassion but is unwilling to display it; she is intent on amusing, but only through sorrowful gestures. You walk very slowly, hesitating, and even occasionally turning around to glance behind you. When asked, 'Did you see anything in there?' you find yourself unable to respond—the words, which rumble around inside you, can't be shaped into an utterance. Reading Huang Liqun is like spelunking—it's normal to experience a loss of speech and a pounding heart.

Huang Liqun's Bio:
Born in 1979 in Taipei, Huang graduated from National Chengchi University's Department of Philosophy and went on to work in media. Her pen name is Jiu Jiu. Her published works include the story collections Fallen Xiao Luren, Eight Flowers Blossom, Nine Seams Split, and Welcome to the Dollhouse. In the course of her creative life, she has brought out three volumes of her accumulated short stories, only a third of which are published under her real name. Her writing is precise, with every word in its proper place, as she describes the feeling of being an outsider commonly experienced by those in the lower classes of society. Her eyes accustomed to city life, she sees right through Taiwan's weird wonders.

Recommended Works:

Welcome to the Dollhouse
 Designed so that the book's front cover resembles a half-open door, it is as if the novel itself is trying to pass through a tiny window. It pokes fun at the kind of people who steal the limelight but are in reality murky, sorrowful souls with hearts as cold as ice. Good use of dialogue and a sense of restriction surround the full, but stormy waves created by reading this book, which is cruel yet glowing with light. Huang Liqun continues the unique style of her two previous collections, although her writing here has a much more dense texture, cutting through the issues and entering an emotionally subtle and confusing space. She shows that while it might be hard to open a collection, it is just as hard to close one.

Fallen Xiao Luren (2001) In the preface to this book is a question worth asking: 'Why are you willing to spend the money on my book?' Huang Liqun has a point. Although it is said that writers all intend, to a greater or lesser extent, to keep themselves hidden, their methods of expression can be fleeting, or full of pomp and swagger, like Huang's. This book's plot reveals her fearless storytelling. Unpleasant tastes like deep-fried squid balls mixed with mothballs are dished out without regret. Many of the stories in this collection chill to the bone. Huang's strong grasp of the ways of the world make readers freeze with fear for her characters. However, as the book's title implies, with everyone running to and fro all day, if we're not careful, slip-ups will happen. This is the kind of book that keeps you on your toes, but amidst the cold sweat, you will give a knowing smile.

Eight Flower Blossoms, Nine Seams Split (2005) In her postscript, the author quotes from The Compendium of Five Lamps: 'When asked how is a seamless tower possible, the teacher's response is, "Eight flowers blossom and nine seams split."' This book is divided up into two parts which take their names from this idea. Only a limited amount of text fits within the thin columns, but each word is full of spark and meaning. These words are collected from Huang's wanderings in Taipei. Her characters cling onto cracks in the city, where they start to become deceitful and lonely. In Taipei, Huang strings beads professionally, while in her short stories, her needlework is every bit as deft—she never misses a stitch, particularly when writing about those many people unable to let go of their love.
translated from the Chinese by "And Other Stories Chinese Reading Group" members

16. Han Han (China) – Seeking the Warmth In Cold Blood
by Ma Yimu (trans. Poppy Toland)

Photo provided by Xin Jing Dian Wen Hua
There are two Han Hans.

One appears on magazine covers and in newspaper headlines—the Han Han at the centre of a vortex. His words and actions are broken down, frame by frame, into slow-motion, so they can be discussed and consumed, again and again. The other secludes himself in the suburbs, preferring a life of minimal social interaction, all the better to maintain a distance from the world.

This is the second Han Han—the Han Han who writes the novels.

The first time I met Han, one of the top race car drivers in China, he drove me to the Shanghainese housing complex where he lives. Recognising the car some way off, the security guard gave a salute and opened the gate. A metre away, Han suddenly decided to spin the car at a ninety-degree angle and enter sideways. Turning sideways to take on the world—you could almost say that this is the attitude of Han's fiction.

"I was born with no name, parents unknown. Yet, without knowing how or why, I have a master." This is how the narrator opens Riot in Chang'an City. Endowed with the martial skills necessary to unite jianghu—the imaginary milieu of martial arts novels—Han's protagonist has a special calling, whose provenance is mysterious even to him. But instead of acting on it, he rides around aimlessly on a tired old horse. The fictional jianghu becomes the real world, and the horse's swaying back and forth our vantage point on it.

The way Han sees it, the masses are all fools, but the emperor is the biggest fool of them yet. The masses will slaughter one another arguing over which came first, the chicken or the egg, and the last person left alive will have forgotten his own position on the matter. Society is structured upon absurdity. Government officials "always arrest whomever they want to arrest," even if they don't know whether they've got the right person or not, "so they take them in anyway, just to check." There's no doubting that this is a martial arts novel, but one suffused with the author's observations about the real world.

Riot in Chang'an City, together with His Kingdom, and the more recent 1988: I Want to Talk to This World, make up an artistic trilogy throughout which entropy reigns. In the latter two, the worn-out horse is traded in for a broken-down motorcycle and a beat-up old station wagon. The horse can never be a gallant steed; the car must always be a bit worse for wear. It's through these decrepitudes that Han Han attempts to seek out the real spirit animating China. "The atmosphere is getting worse and worse, I need to hit the road," begins 1988: I Want to Talk to This World. The terrible atmosphere Han Han refers to here is the social climate surrounding him—murky, perverse to the point of ridiculous; Draconian, without value.

In my opinion, the greatness of his work cannot be explained away by his language or his style. The value of it lies instead in the fact that, in the face of looming social realities that cause everyone to tear one another apart, Han doesn't lay low. Rather, as described in Riot in Chang'an City, he "draws his sword from his satchel and cuts the horse down by the hoof."

In the words of the writer Cao Kou, "While China's contemporary writers typically turn their backs on real life, dance around the topic, or gild the lily, Han Han confronts reality in all its ugliness and futility, and reflects it in his writing earnestly and without adornment... While seasoned writers linger on the "higher plane" of the wider literary scene, Han uses his relatively unsophisticated prose to record the age as he experiences it. His perseverance culminated in his 1988: I Want to Talk to This World; the rest of us, however, have already been 'speechless' for some time now."

Han once told me a story from his childhood. With his legs dangling, he sat behind his father on the back seat of his bicycle. Passing the Town Hall, the young Han asked, "How can our mayor be this corrupt? We need to bring down these corrupt officials. When I grow up, I want to be an honest official and get rid of corruption once and for all." Han did join the fight against corruption in the end, albeit as a story teller—through his stories that would be "a dressing room for the real world."

However, if his work only stopped at that, it would be tedious to read. The vividness of Han's work arises from a bottomless compassion for the world and his idée fixe that life's beauty can disappear in an instant. This notion of fragility is everpresent as he dutifully records both indignities and tender moments alike. In his fiction, Han might linger on a ray of light on the body of a "fallen woman" drawing curtains, or describe a boy who has scaled to the top of the school's flagpole and is wondering to himself about the girl below him in the playground: what year she is in; what class she is in; what desk she sits at.

These tour de force passages might be compared to glimmers of light in a dark box—they represent a spiritual place outside of prosaic concerns. When you get to them, it is like experiencing music amidst static, the burst of warmth in cold blood, a lull in the middle of great speed.

That time I sat in Han Han's car, right after he had spun his car and entered the complex sideways, this second Han Han turned to me and said, "It's a very dull life for these security guards and their pay isn't good. I like to do something to cheer them up."

Han Han's Bio:
Born in 1982, Han Han is a native of Shanghai. A writer, race car driver, magazine editor, and a singer, Han Han won first prize in the 1999 New Concept Essay Competition for his piece, "Seeing Ourselves in a Cup." In 2000, his novel, Triple Door, sold twenty million copies. He went on to publish several more novels, including Riot in Chang'an City, A Fortress, and His Kingdom, as well as a collection of essays. In 2006, he released his debut album, R-18. In 2010, he was chosen by TIME Magazine as one of "The 100 Most Influential People in the World." The magazine he edited, Party, sold more than a million copies despite folding after only one issue.

Recommended Works:

1988: I Want to Talk to This World (2010)
Han's most mature work to date, this earnest road novel explores the question: If 1989 had not taken place, would the world be a better place? Using a station wagon as the vehicle for this journey, this novel weaves together two plot strands. Strand A is set in the present reality, and describes an encounter with a prostitute, while strand B leads us into the past.

Riot in Chang'an City (2004) A martial arts novel that deconstructs the martial arts novel. The unnamed young protagonist of Riot in Chang'an City finds himself up against all odds. Just as he has matured, fate arranges for him to witness the greatest martial art competition in all the land. At this time, there are two factions, Shaolin and Wudang. Shaolin has the edge over Wudang because, as everyone knows, long hair can be difficult to take care of...

His Kingdom (2009) A story about a kingdom.

17. Zhang Yueran (China) – Removing the 80s
labelby Jiang Yan (trans. Li Yuting)

Photo provided by the author
Zhang Yueran has been trying to remove the label for years.

In 2001, Zhang won the first prize in 'The New Concept Writing Competition' while still in high school; it was this prodigious win that gave her the label 'post-80s writer'.

Ever since, three names are mentioned whenever people speak of post-80s writers: Guo Jingming, Han Han, and Zhang Yueran. All three became well-known public figures from winning this same competition.

However, unlike the other two, Zhang was not continually on the front page for dropping out of school—in the case of Han—or plagiarizing—in the case of Guo. Instead, Zhang was a good student, had a good attitude, and was in good health. Disappointed when Tsinghua University did not accept her application as a 'special talent,' Zhang chose to pursue a bachelor's in computer science in Singapore. In her final year, while all her classmates were busy hunting for jobs, she returned to literature, as she later put it: "writing [computer] programs as well as stories".

Several years later, Zhang was still being listed with Guo and Han (as well as Di An and Luo Luo) as the most well-known of the post-80s writers. However, their life paths could not be more different. Guo became more of a businessman than a writer; Han worked hard to improve his image. As distinct from her competition-winning peers, Zhang was the only one devoting her life to literature.

In 2006, provoked by Guo's plagiarism scandal, Zhang unexpectedly announced on her blog that she wanted to get rid of the 80s label she had been stuck with from the very beginning. In the article, Zhang blamed Guo for not taking responsibility for his mistake and for refusing to apologize; it became clear to her that if she and other people continued to keep silent, this mistake would be repeated by the entire generation. She also questioned the influence that the 80s label has had. Specifically, she took issue with the idea that so-called 80s writers were optimists immersing in the creation of literature. Once recognized as post-80s writers, many of them became in cultural spokespeople, commercial tools, entertainment props. She proposed that her generation take the scandal as a lesson. This wasn't the first time the fearlessly candid Zhang had taken the group to task. In an article in Newriting, the literary magazine she founded, she compared the post-80s generation to a group of "flatterers," people devoid of their own opinions, easily incited, eager to follow the crowd, too naïve.

The article wasn't appreciated; instead, Zhang was accused of betraying her contemporaries. In response, she said that she saw the same flaws in herself, and that if the article was considered treason, she was betraying herself too. She urged everyone belonging to the post-80s generation to embrace introspection and change.

Newriting represents Zhang's desire for a 'pure literature'. Instead of being a mere magazine, Newriting is conceived as a book with a central theme for every issue: ambiguity, loneliness, the best of times, escapist philosophy, addiction, and lateness. Collectively, the many Newriting books demonstrate that these modern themes have their place in literature. But perhaps most importantly, Newriting has introduced several outstanding foreign writers to Chinese readers. The very first interview of Sarah Waters in Chinese, for example, was published in Newriting. Other notable features include an exclusive interview with Aoyama Nanae and the works of Janet Vincent.

At the same time, Newriting has published many native writers underrecognized in China. Zhang, who looks to Granta as a model, considers it the mission of a literary magazine to educate its readers by introducing them to new, dynamic work.

It is likely that editing the magazine has taken up most of her time, as Zhang hasn't released any new work since the novel, Vower, six years ago. She has told young people with literary ambitions that "it is definitely not a good time to succeed in literature. For those who still want to choose this path, you should treat it as going against the grain. You must have strength of mind and be prepared to adapt. At the same time, remind yourself constantly that you are on the path to fulfilling your dreams." In the same spirit, let's hope that Zhang will show us a new book soon.

Zhang Yueran's Bio:
'Fate is playing hide and seek with me, either I catch it or it waits for me.' Zhang Yueran, a Scorpio, was born in Jinan, Shandong, in 1982. While working as a Chinese lecturer at university, her father tried to persuade her to study science, but failed. From childhood, Zhang has liked daydreaming, spending all her time living in a wonderland and trying to turn images into literature. After winning the writing competition in 2001, Zhang started to publish her works in the online magazine Mengya. She is known for the works Red Shoes, Ten Tales of Love, The Narcissus Has Gone with the Carp, and Vower.

Recommended Works:

A Chinese woman finds her way around Southeast Asia after a tsunami makes her amnesiac. Drifting from place to place, homeless and miserable, she falls ill and is sent to jail. To recover her memories, she eventually blinds herself. Zhang herself experienced the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia, where she was doing research.  After several days of hiding, she finally returned to Singapore to set to work on this novel of disconnection.

The Narcissus Has Gone with the Carp (2005) 'Is this story about reincarnation?' is the most-asked question by readers of this book. A girl suffering from bulimia is constantly mocked for her unsightly appearance. Badly treated by life, she becomes pregnant and decides to get rid of the baby. However, an encounter with her newly remarried—and pregnant—mother changes her mind. Like in many of Zhang's stories, the protagonist tries to run away from her fate. Will it work this time?

Red Shoes (2004) A man takes a girl under his wing out of remorse for killing her mother. The little girl grows up lonely, indifferent to him and the world, even though he is willing to give up everything for her. When this book came out, this female character's extreme personality triggered considerable discussion among readers; however, it is such extremes that Zhang likes to write about, for they generate great power for a story.

18. Di An (China) – A Tragic Fairy Tale
by Xue Luolei (trans. Li Yuting)

Photo provided by Ben Shi Wen Hua

Di An's short story 'Yuanji' (Parnirvana) is about a man with no arms or legs. But it's neither a cold nor cruel account. Under Di's gentle treatment, the dreary subject matter is skillfully worked into a fairy tale, combining elements of both pathos and joy that recall Hans Christian Andersen's 'The Ugly Duckling'. One might even go so far as to call the story a tragic fairy tale—a "genre" Di tackles in her oeuvre.

Born in 1983, Di An has published five novels and several novellas, including Lili and Yuanji, which are perhaps the most representative of her work in novella form. Since bursting onto the scene with My Sister's Love Jungle in 2003, Di has been writing for ten years now; her latest novel Nanyin: Memory in the City of Dragon—Part Three came out in 2012.

Published when she was only 21, Ashes to Ashes is Di's first novel. A good novel is not only the product of talent; it also comes out of past experience with other literary texts, and deep contemplation. Thus, most young writers debut with a work that oozes talent, but lacks maturity and cool. Ashes to Ashes is no exception. A story of love and hate intertwined, this novel about young people reads somewhat like a piece of juvenilia. Still, Di's signature use of the tragic fairy tale to express the desolate and broken aspects of life with a touch of warmth finds its origins here.

When Di's third novella Xijue: Memory in the City of Dragon—Part One was published in 2009, it had been three years since the release of Desperate Love, her second novel. Her compassionate attention to the protagonist's emotions sometimes draws us too close to the character, causing the novel to suffer from sentimentality. In Xijue this sentimentality is reined in, and the narrative progresses steadily in a manner suited to the placid personality of the eponymous protagonist. Though there is little high drama in the plot, which revolves around a few past and present episodes of ordinary family life, the story effortlessly—and admirably—draws us in. Even if expressly about the trifles of common life, its atmosphere is that of heavenly paradise. In his introduction to the book, Su Tong describes it as "beautiful yet disillusioning," a perfect description of the conflict at the heart of Di's "tragic fairy tales".

Xijue constituted something of a break for Di An, representing a step into maturity for the young author and signaling the beginning of her rise to fame. It was followed in 2010 by the 300,000 word novel Dongmi: Memory in the City of Dragon—Part Two, which tells the story of Dongmi, a willful and stubborn girl who must eventually bow to reality's demands. It is the highlight of her bibliography for many fans, and possibly for the novelist as well.

Nanyin was published in early 2012 as the final installment of the Memory in the City of Dragon trilogy. Here Di An seeks to peel back the veil of the fairy tale and emphasize the tragic aspects of her style. The novel sees the once calm and compassionate Xijue commit murder; Dongmi, formerly an example for others to follow, now invites cold and embarrassed looks; Nanyin, no longer a paragon of optimism and cheer, falters and passes into moral darkness. Di has written leaden, cruel stories before, but never has she plunged so deeply into despair. Yet, even in this darkest of her works, a fairy tale slips through, this time composed by her character Nanyin, who works on it intermittently and brings it to a close at the novel's end. Nanyin's fairy tale, made up of innocent elements (an alien child, a little bear and a tiny fairy) is the ray of light that penetrates this otherwise bleak novel, its single solace and its coda.

Di's next book, the already-announced Mei Lanfang: the Story of an Opera Master, promises to delight, and should only further the reputation of its author, who, from among the crop of post-80s writers, already appears to be the one with the greatest potential.

Di An's Bio:
Di An (born Li Di'an in Taiyuan Sanxi in 1983) was the editor-in-chief for the literary magazine ZUI Found. Her first short story, 'My Sister's Love Jungle', was published in Harvest in 2003, followed by her debut novel Ashes to Ashes, in 2005. A second novel, Desperate Love, came out the following year. It was the publication of Xijue in 2009 that made Di An's name, winning her several prizes, among them the Most Promising New Talent Award and the Chinese Literature Media Award. Dongmi and Nanyin followed thereafter. Bai Ye has praised her work for "expanding the range and depth of youth literature."

Recommended Works:

Xijue: Memory in the City of Dragon—Part One (2009) This may be the best novel to begin your love affair with Di An's work. Compared to the dramatic madness of Dongmi and the cold desperation of Nanyin, Xijue is very mild indeed. With no dramatic story line, it succeeds nonetheless in absorbing us completely, and embedding itself in our minds.

In Memory of Dragon Maiden (2007) Published in 2007, In Memory of Dragon Maiden is a collection of Di An's novellas comprising 'My Sister's Love Jungle', 'Lili' and 'In Memory of Dragon Maiden'. At the time of its publication, most of the post-80s writers were writing novels instead of novellas to fulfill market demand. These three novellas exemplify the elegance of her writing.

Nanyin: Memory in the City of Dragon—Part Three (2012) For a good example of dark Di An novel (which is rare), read Nanyin. Di experimented with a different tone to write this affecting story that unearths the hidden darknesses in man's deepest psyche. Most post-80s writers have failed to pull this off. Di should be commended for her courage.

19. Chen Boqing (Taiwan) – Capturing His Generation's Theme Song
by Jiang Lingqing (trans. Jesse Field)

Photo by Xiao Tu
My memory of my life before reading Chen Boqing (also known as Morris Chen) is as faraway as the "summer before History began," a phrase that opens his 'Circus'. Upon my first contact with Chen's oeuvre, I felt I had acquired a new mental interface through which to process the world. I've become accustomed to this new mode; I keep myself up to date with its developments. Chen demands great things of his work and his rigorous standards have led him to consistently underrate his writing, despite having produced over a hundred essays and stories since he started to take writing seriously in university. However, these same standards have also kept him from following the formula of many young writers who produce collections made up of prize-winning stories; instead, Chen claims that it is only by penetrating the brambled forest of language that proliferates in newspapers, magazines and blogs, that one can, like intrepid video game heroes, climb levels and win fortune.

At first, I thought that the strength of Chen's work lay in his unique writing style. I used to wonder if the thousands of reviews and reading notes accumulated on his blogs, "Guerilla Lecture Notes" and "Clock Wanderer" had colored his writing with the specter of other plots. Only when I read his debut novel, Little City, published last year under the pseudonym Ye Fulu, did I see that he had already begun to establish something quite special: a form of collective memory belonging solely to our generation of Taiwanese, the so-called "Seventh Graders". Little City marked the completion of a project he had labored over for years, in which Chen refuses to submit to the clichéd forms of landscape and language representation present in contemporary Taiwanese writing. Instead, he writes out of personal experience—the writer's greatest asset—to liberate Literature from falsely imposed structures and value systems. In this way, the language of television, the canned writing in official documents, the syntactic potential of text messages, the dramatic conventions of four-panel manga, and even a particular tone of voice used to announce time all become part of his distinctive style—they are, so to speak, the workmen behind the scenes of his little linguistic city.

Many of Chen's pieces are scattered all over the Internet, manifesting different lives depending on when they are read. In 'Circus', a poor city-dweller resists his evictors by tearing down the walls of his own apartment, and using the bricks to build a labyrinth. 'Old Rooms' begins with a series of supernatural events that devolve into an absurd debate between the Japanese and Kuomintang armies, before ending up as simply a grain in the collective Taiwanese imagination—a constructed narrative movement. 'Four Panel Manga' uses the simple logic of manga to explore our flashes of doubt about life. The stories therein are vivid examples of the everyday married to the absurd, and make up a new narrative form, both fantastic and realist, born equally of the past and future. Chen undertakes an archaeology of the present to frame "generational memory" even as he also makes predictions about the direction our island is taking.

Yet what gives his writing the character of an interface is not just the extent, and how distinctively, he invokes the fantastic as a framing device for narrative. More importantly, he gives us ordinary characters fuelled by desperate—even apocalyptic—willpower that turn out to be brilliantly belligerent and wasteful. There are the lovers who enact their doomed passion as nuclear disaster levels the city in the parable-like 'Air Raid Siren.' There is the young man from 'Pool of Courage' embarrassed by his adolescent body, but who, over the course of a swimming lesson, learns the resilience necessary to face the world. Morris Chen's inventiveness renders these characters—so ordinary that they become extraordinary—an ode to his generation. In his stories, simple problems representative of our most formative experiences—obsessing over some tiny matter, wanting attention that we do not get—yield unexpected profundity. With age, we tend to forget these experiences, but Chen reminds us of their place in our lives.

Today, media technology is changing the way people process memory. Chen's narrative investigates those types of memory that can't be captured by text messages or digital cameras, showing, finally, that literature is irreplaceable. Drawing from culture and personal experience, he gives us stories where words never age and narrative is forever written over by the memory of each successive generation. Chen's fierce originality makes him a new model for Chinese writing in Taiwan. To read him is to witness, with great pleasure, an immense talent committed to encapsulating his generation, to capturing, if you will, its theme song: how this world breathes—and blasts by faster than any eye can see.

Chen Boqing's Bio:
Born in 1983, Chen is currently a graduate student at National Taiwan University's Graduate Institute of Taiwanese Literature and is known for both his essays and his fiction. His debut, Little City, won the Jiuge Two Million Publishing Award for Best Novel. One of the most noted of the "Seventh Grader" writers, Chen has been selected for numerous anthologies. With his no-holds-barred attitude, he has plumbed the possibilities of fiction, exploring various technologized forms of writing. More than a pioneer of a new aesthetic, Chen is also a shrewd observer of changing undercurrents of society. In his latest work, First Municipal Combat Elementary, he investigates how fiction might thrive outside of strict cause and effect.

Recommended Works:

Little City (2011)
Beginning with elements of "Seventh Grader" collective memories such as university entrance exams, the television show Nights of the Rose, and Tamagotchis, this novel investigates how memory and narrative can reverse the structure and movement of a city. Little City takes the observation of the changes in Taipei as its theme, using realistic setting and a cinematic style, with some paragraphs resembling movie cuts.

'Cell Phone Story' (2007) Constrained in its descriptions by the 70-character-limit of text messages, this story constitutes a new direction in literature. The novel, about the new generation "overwriting" the old, is ultimately optimistic about the adaption of current technology to literary writing. While it seems at first to have been written quickly, it is full of intricate detail and demonstrates the versatility of contemporary Chinese writing.

'Circus' (2010) Opening with a public notice, this story takes a news item all too common in recent times—"Elderly Flat Resident Protests Government-Ordered Eviction, Demolition"—and delivers a fantastic outcome at the same time as it wryly comments on real life. With humor and absurdity, Chen depicts a group of poor city dwellers protesting against power, in which the very act of protest becomes a romantic outpouring of warmth towards life.

20. Yang Fumin (Taiwan) – Raise a Tear for the Fear of Death
by Zhai Ao (trans. Jesse Field)

Photo provided by the author

First, I must confess that, yes, Yang Fumin is my classmate in graduate school. We talk about our lives, we discuss literature, and sometimes, in the dark of the night, we bring out the even darker sides of ourselves, our deepest inner thoughts. Consoling each other helps us sleep better. And yet, I still don't understand him. He's like a water current, forever in flux. There's no knowing where he's coming from or where he's going (in this respect, he thinks the same way he leaves a room). Commenting on Yang's story 'Speed of Flow', Zhou Fenling, his teacher, writes, "He goes too fast, hurries too much." I feel this is because Yang is cocksure, working hard to be out front beyond the crowd, the better to tell us all what's ahead.

Which is...?

Death—just that, nothing more.

This is why from the beginning of his debut collection Sixty Year Old Boy, Yang is like Detective Conan, always coming back to death. Some stories are dressed-up, somewhat wordy funeral processions ('Would that this Sleep could Last', 'Didn't Hear That', 'There's Ghosts'); some feature sudden and unexpected disasters ('My Name is Chen Zhewu', 'Constellation Number Five'); still others describe the moment separating life from death ('Genuine', 'A Day on the Spirit Sedan,' 'Sing a Song For You to Hear', 'Sixty Years Old'). How was he able to martial differing narrative structures around a common theme to craft a unified collection? It is precisely this fundamental yet irresolvable theme that drives authors still using writing as a means of exploration. As Margaret Atwood once said, "All writing of the narrative kind, and perhaps all writing, is motivated, deep down, by a fear of and a fascination with mortality—by a desire to make the risky trip to the Underworld, and to bring something or someone back from the dead." Still, there is something different about Yang. He brings to the table the curiosity of a newborn calf, and under his pen, death rarely takes the form of a violent extortionist. Instead, by writing of illness and the degeneration of the body, as well as the tiniest details of funerary custom, Yang slows the speed of descent towards death, thus inviting the reader to contemplate the relationship between body and spirit, between life and death, between "I" and others. And as the God-author of the stories, Yang has time to observe: what is all this about? What is death anyhow? In these works, death is not only the destruction of a body, but also a turning point for the living. The dead might be done, but what are the living to do with themselves?

But the price of a servile death is that it is no longer terrible; feelings surrounding death lose value. We never get to see Conan alone and in mourning; everyone just wants to know the cause of death: was it cyanide? Was it a murder behind closed doors? And yet, Yang pays us back with eloquence. By "pay back" I don't mean to say that he uses style to conceal substance, to hoodwink. Rather, I mean that his writing never strays from the mark. Tangled up as it is with the polysonority of Taiwan and of languages from other countries, it comes forth so mellifluously that the reader finds it irresistible—and if the writing convinces, as they say, feelings will flow. The celebrated nativist writers of the past recommended the use of native language, but it always made the writing stilted and unmanageable; confronted with breaks in voice, the reader's pace slowed. Yang's writing, on the other hand, marks its trajectory like a bullet. However, it deviates from Newton's first law of motion in that its action is not derived from some other action, but wholly its own. Still, insofar as literary influences exist, Yang is a combination of an elevated Wu He and a coarse Chu T'ien-wen. As evidenced by his subject matter, Yang's love of his native land is probably the most pronounced from among the Seventh Graders. His hometown of Tainan may be full of pomelos and water chestnuts, but it is also full of stories, and these are the material from which Yang draws to create his first works. Compared to others without first-hand experience of Tainan, Yang is uniquely endowed. Chu T'ien-wen's harrowing "It's so good to have a body," becomes, under the pen of Yang, the moderate "It's so good to have a hometown." And even though the stories of his hometown represent capital, they still take time to put on the market; how to resell it without a loss in value is the experiment of the Seventh Graders.

Last year, the novelist Li Yu, who doesn't shy away from the title 'prose stylist' (a term especially associated with Shen Congwen), returned to Taiwan for a short professorial stint; Yang was her teaching assistant as well as student. What advice did Li Yu have for him? Is China not the canon itself?

Pursuers of hometown mysteries must leave their homes first before they are able to begin the pursuit, as Lu Xun left Shaoxing, Shen Congwen left West Hunan, or Chung Li-ho left Meinong. Whether Yang will be inducted into the same Hall of Fame is a question that will have to wait. If Yang does not begrudge being grouped with Li Yu, if he makes his home in the unknown that lies ahead, then he may create countless possible homes through his countless possible writings. In the end, writing stitched to perfection may announce a return, but also signal that there is finally no return to speak of.

Yang Fumin's Bio:
Born in Tainan in 1987, Yang Fumin is currently a graduate student at the National Taiwan University Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature. In 2010 he published the short story collection Sixty-Year Old Boy—a stellar example of how a Seventh Grader author might carry on the vitality of the native Taiwan language via a grotesquery of Taiwanese scenes. In these stories, sound is an element not to be overlooked, from the suonas and gongs of funeral processions, to current popular songs, the Taiwan-inflected Mandarin Chinese of the new generation, and the Chinglish of ABCs, which all add up to a writing full of noise and bombast. Recently, in his Liberty Times column "Blustering," Yang has written on the boldness and lack of restraint among youth, on the old ways of Tainan, and reflections on how little he understood the world in his youthful ignorance. In his new work, tentatively entitled What Happened to the Huang Family, the passing of the Old Uncle, the last member of the Huangs, closes a chapter. Yang, though himself not yet 30, writes from the point of view of the Huang family's old soul, tracing, in this unconventional historical narrative, the memory of the clan, an account of how its members got scattered, how the number of its ghosts grew. It is currently under serial publication.

Recommended Works:

'Genuine' (Collected in Sixty-Year-Old Boy,
2010) Winner of the first prize in the Fifth Lin Rung San Awards for best short story. 'Genuine' recounts how Mama Shuiliang, who had depended on her husband her whole life, steps onto a magnificent ornamented automobile, shiny hat on her head, to ride wildly in a circuit around greater Tainan making the traditional announcement of his death, and presenting sights and sounds that constitute a microcosm of all Taiwan. A funeral procession that sets out somber and inauspicious but is filled with joy by the end. The story is particularly good at conveying the personality of Mama Shuilang, whose high spirits are just like the "Taiwan Jacana," a bird featured in the story. Yang's facility for mixing language is plainly evident here: not only is the story a kitchen sink filled with every kind of language, it is also a lake of vitality, rippling cultures old and new.

'What Happened to the Huang Family' (Salt-Zone Literature, bi-monthly, issue 30, October 2010) Old Uncle, a despicable defector from the "Huang Family," has made the pursuit of his political ideals his life's work from the time of his youth when the nativist movement first began. Nevertheless, he dies a depressed man. Only in Old Uncle's last moments do we discover his greatness. Narrated in first-person, the exposition deals with Old Uncle's book collection and remaining personal effects, tracing the past of a group of young revolutionaries out of dying last embers and giving it a framework that in the end aligns with the island's political developments. The lives they transformed turned out to be their very own! Once again, Yang writes of death, only this time death is closer than ever. On the other hand, the intolerable pressure that death puts on the living is swept away. Where do dead people go? Can the living go there, too? In one fell swoop, Yang overturns the cliché of the resolution-filled happy ending, concluding instead: "They're gone!"
translated from the Chinese by "And Other Stories Chinese Reading Group" members

Preuzeto iz časopisa Asymptote