Yan Lianke: 日熄 (The Day the Sun Died)

The latest addition to my website is Yan Lianke‘s 日熄 (The Day the Sun Died). This tells the story of the village of Gaotian, which happens to be the village of the writer Yan Lianke, who has written books whose titles are similar to but not identical with the real Yan Lianke. It is narrated by Li Niannian, the fourteen-year old son of the couple who sell funerary objects. Li Niannian’s maternal grandfather owns the local crematorium which does good business as burial is forbidden and only cremation allowed, though many of the villagers try to secretly bury their dead. One night (the story is told during this night), a large number of the inhabitants start dreamwalking , i.e. sleepwalking. Sometimes, they are not aware that they are sleepwalking. They lose their inhibitions and carry on doing what they were doing while awake in a more intense manner (which means that some of those who were walking walk straight into the canal). In particular, the dreamwalkers steal, while those not dreamwalking steal from houses and shops that are no longer guarded, till massive violence breaks out. The story gives rather a negative view of people – nearly all behave badly – and it is easy to see why it has not been published in mainland China.

Dong Xi: 后悔录 (Record of Regret)

The latest addition to my website is Dong Xi‘s 后悔录 (Record of Regret). This is fascinating novel set primarily in the Cultural Revolution and follows the story of Ceng Guangxian, a young man who makes a succession of poor judgements, as regards the opposite sex but also in all aspects of his life. This is partially because he has a big mouth, not a good idea in the Cultural Revolution, which gets him and many others into trouble, but also because he simply does not know to deal with people or, indeed, with life. He nearly marries three different women but ends up messing up their lives and his own, not least because he does not understand women at all. The whole novel is summed up by the fact that he is narrating the novel to a person whose identity is not revealed until the end but who is unconscious for the entire narration.

A Reading List for David Gilmour

Aargh! A book by a Canadian woman - a no go for Gilmour
Aargh! A book by a Canadian woman – a no go for Gilmour

As has been extensively reported Canadian writer and professor David Gilmour (no, not that David Gilmour) has made a bit of fool of himself, basically saying that there are no interesting women, Canadian and Chinese writers and saying that he only reads Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth. Quite apart from the sheer stupidity of making such a statement, essentially condemning a whole range of writers purely because of their sex or nationality, and then going public with it, Gilmour’s comments are wrong-headed for other reasons.

Masturbation in public - do Roth & Gilmour both like it?
Masturbation in public – do Roth & Gilmour both like it?

1. His condemnation of women writers and his statement that he only reads heterosexual guys shows that he clearly has concerns about his masculinity. His interview appeared on the Random House Canada blog. If you look further down on that blog, you will find this post. Now we know that one of Gilmour’s literary heroes is the second-rate Philip
Roth, a man who loves masturbating in public. And Henry Miller (who reads him now but the sexually frustrated?) Is this Gilmour’s problem? I think we should be told.
2. More importantly, there are lots of very good women, Chinese and Canadian writers, David. Perhaps you should try reading them. Here is a list to get you going. I have even put links to Amazon Canada for some of them, so you can buy them.

China produced a whole range of first-class prose literature, well before your heterosexual guys were born.

Story of the Stone (aka The Dream of the Red Chamber. Hey, it starts off with the story of a young man who prefers girls to studies. A real heterosexual guy.
The Water Margin. Lots of brawny heterosexual men here, David. Just your sort of man, even if they are not, you know, white.
Journey to the West (aka Monkey, with a monk fighting demons. Tough and maybe even heterosexual.
The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. More heterosexual guys fighting.

There are modern Chinese writers as well. Gao Xingjian and Mo Yan both won the Nobel Prize. Xiaolu Guo is a woman but she is heterosexual and was on the list, though she is Chinese. Mao Dun was producing great literature when Chekhov and Tolstoy were.

And, yes, your own country produces some great writers (beside you, of course). Up on the top at the left, you will see the cover of a book by a Canadian writer – Margaret Atwood. She is very well known, very well-respected and a woman. There are other good Canadian writers as well – Michael Ondaatje, Timothy Findley and Rohinton Mistry. Some of them write in French – Marie-Clair Blais, Nancy Huston and Gérard Bessette. Here is a detailed list to help you.

As for women writers, I would not know where to start, so I will start with my women writers page. Many of the early writers were women. A Celebration of Women Writers can help you there. Oh, I see that you have apologised. A bit late, David, but do read some of these women, Chinese and Canadian authors. You might even enjoy them.

Xiaolu Guo: 20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth


The latest addition to my website is Xiaolu Guo‘s 20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth. Though nominally written in English, it was in fact her first novel published in Chinese. However, when it was translated into English, she decided to rewrite the English so it is a sort of newish novel. It tells the story of a young woman called Fenfang Wang, clearly based on Xiaolu Guo herself, who suddenly, aged seventeen, leaves her home village, leaving only a note for her parents, and sets off for Beijing. Her first four years in Beijing are difficult. She does a series of menial jobs and has very poor accommodation. However, after four years, she gets a job in a cinema, tidying up, and that introduces her to the wonders of film. When she finds an umbrella left behind by an assistant director, he recommends that she apply to become a film extra. Initially, she does not get much work but gradually gets more. She meets an assistant to a producer and has an affair but that does not work out but gradually gets more roles and starts screenplay writing. Xiaolu Guo tells a gentle tale of a young woman facing the world in the maelstrom of Beijing and how she copes. There are no fireworks but it is an enjoyable story.

Xiaolu Guo: A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers


The latest addition to my website is Xiaolu Guo‘s A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers. This is her first book written in English though it is (deliberately) written in bad English. It is a semi-autobiographical account of her own arrival in London and her struggles with the language and the culture. She writes as she would have spoken then (apparently it is based in part on the diaries she kept at the time). The chapters are divided into headwords, which are the words she struggles with at this time and each chapter heading also has the English dictionary definition of the word which can sometimes be a help to her but sometimes add to her confusion. As the title shows, it is also about love, another issues which shows up the cultural differences between the two countries. She meets a man twenty years older than her in a cinema and, within a week, she has moved into his house. He is bisexual, has been a drifter and now earns his living delivering things in a scruffy white van. Their cultural differences are, of course, brought out. He is a vegetarian, she is not. They have different views on relationships and various other issues, though some of these differences may well be male-female, rather than English-Chinese. The book is very funny but also has a very serious intent and works very well though, as one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists, it seems odd that she clearly is not British.

Xiaolu Guo: 我心中的石头镇 (Village of Stone)


The latest addition to my website is Xiaolu Guo‘s 我心中的石头镇 (Village of Stone). She is one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists. This novel was the last of several that she wrote in Chinese and the only one of those that has been translated into English. Her subsequent novels have been written in English. It tells the story of Coral Jiang, both in her childhood (from the ages of seven to fifteen) and in the present time, aged twenty-eight. She had been born and brought up in the Village of Stone, a remote village by the sea in the south of China, where people made their living from the sea, and which was constantly buffeted by typhoons, so much so that roofs were weighed down with stones. Her mother had died soon after giving birth to her, while her father had left before she was born. She was brought up by her grandparents, who had barely spoken to one another for many years. Life was hard and made harder for Coral, who was harassed by a mute who sexually assaulted her. In the present time, she is living in a flat in Beijing with Red and working in a video rental shop. Her life seems to be going nowhere. Btu then a large dead eel arrives in a parcel for her from the Village of Stone and things start to change.