LOUD SPARROWS

CONTEMPORARY CHINESE SHORT-SHORTS

Anthology of Chinese short-shorts ranges from exotic to downright weird.

Apparently, short-short stories (under a thousand words) have taken China, Taiwan and Hong Kong by storm. Whence this collection representing what the editors’ introduction cites as a global phenomenon. In China, short-shorts are not merely the province of creative-writing programs or literary contests, but have a mass readership in magazines and newspapers. This anthology attempts to bill as literature what are essentially anecdotes à la Paul Harvey. Whether the culture barriers are too opaque, the translation issues too thorny or self-censorship too rampant, the most avid reader of international literature may find these stories vague and puzzling. Division into 15 sections with seemingly arbitrary theme headings, e.g. Governance, Controversy and yes, Weirdness, imposes no real coherence. A few of the pieces are gently ironic, while many amble aimlessly—the majority of these 91 tales are more accurately characterized as sketches. In “Losing the Feet,” a shoe clerk is drawn to a customer with smelly feet, and when she disappears, his own feet start to smell. “The Beat” involves a son’s gift of a metronome—delayed by a garrulous old geezer—to a mother who, in retirement, is pursuing her lifelong dream of learning the piano. “A Cup of Tea” captures a petty bureaucrat’s anguish over not offering tea to a non-tea-drinking superior, and then over apologizing for his lapse. Readers may not grasp the outcome of certain stories (“A Capable Man Can’t Handle a Small Case,” “Cat”). Some smack of horror (“Flies,” “Chimney Smoke”). Occasionally, entries succeed by rendering a socioeconomic phenomenon concrete: the food chain of trash trucks and trash-pickers, in “The Cycle”; or by illustrating a peculiar prejudice: a male obstetrician risks offending by delivering babies and pays with his life for his skill (“Small-Hands Chen”). Other stories echo Western fables (“The Crow and the Fox”) or pop songs (“Black Umbrella”). Too few achieve the emotional precision of “A Knock at the Door” or “An Encounter with General Zhou.”

A curiosity at best.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-231-13848-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2006

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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