Seven stories, seven whispers into the ears of life, where unexpected twists of crime burst from the everyday, with glimpses of romance distorted by the weaknesses of human motive. A Yi employs his forensic skills to offer a series of portraits of modern life, both uniquely Chinese, and universal in their themes. His years as a police officer serve him well as he teases the truth from simple observation, now brought into the English language in a masterful translation by Alex Woodend…
This collection of stories is quite unlike anything I have read before, and takes the reader to some very dark places indeed, and, although not a regular reader of this literary form, I was impressed by the scope of issues that Yi encompasses within them.
Auspiciously, there are seven stories within the collection:
TWO LIVES: ATTIC: SPRING: BACH: HUMAN SCUM: FAT DUCK: PREDATOR
From the incredibly disturbing opening story, through tales of twisted morality, with a broad sweep and consideration of themes like family, loyalty, betrayal, retribution, sex and redemption, there is much to savour here for those stout of heart and strong of stomach. In terms of writing style there is a brevity of writing and pared down use of language, perhaps reflecting an influence of the hardboiled style of early American crime fiction. The stories are peppered with cultural references and differing locations, that to a certain extent seem to reflect the mind-set and motivations of Yi’s cast of characters, all of whom are vividly depicted in terms of appearance, character traits, and, in some cases, plunging us deep into the darkness that lurks at the heart of them. Don’t expect to empathise with his characters and prepare yourself for some pretty damning observations on the worst that humankind can be…
I wouldn’t say that this collection is for everyone, as Yi has no truck with softening the grim motivations of some of his characters, and there are a few genuinely uncomfortable scenes. However, it was interesting for me to read a literary form that I don’t experience regularly, and I enjoyed the way in which Yi provides a piercing insight into Chinese culture and society, and to explore the darker areas of the human psyche.
A Yi (author) is a celebrated Chinese writer living in Beijing. He worked as a police officer before becoming editor-inchief of Chutzpah, an avant garde literary magazine. He is the author of several collections of short stories and has published fiction in Granta and the Guardian. In 2010 he was shortlisted for the People’s Literature Top 20 Literary Giants of the Future. A Perfect Crime, his first book in English was published by Oneworld in 2015. He is noted for his unsentimental worldview, and challenging literary style.
Alex Woodend (Translator) is a writer/translator whose fascination with Spanish and Chinese began at Franklin & Marshall College. He continued his studies at Columbia University where he wrote his Masters on early post-Mao literature. Translator of The Captain Riley Adventures , Murder in Dragon City, and other works, he currently lives in New York.
(With thanks to Flame Tree Press for the ARC)
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