Seven dark, challenging short stories written from 1987-91, in the wake of China’s Cultural Revolution.
Yu (The Seventh Day, 2015, etc.), perhaps best known for the novel To Live (1993), which was adapted for film, has long since grown into a member of China’s literary elite. This lively little collection of the writer’s earliest work is very post-punk and confrontational, which is likely what the young author intended at the time. In a translator’s note, Barr says Yu was influenced at the time by writers like Kafka, Faulkner, and Borges, and those influences are certainly tangible in the magical realism on display, but these stories can also veer into psychic places as dark as Poe’s gruesome tales. The opener, “As the North Wind Howled,” finds the protagonist suddenly saddled with a dead friend he can’t seem to shake. The long titular story is a foreboding, hallucinatory ramble through a city where it seems the walls are closing in. The next story, “Death Chronicle,” is an equally disturbing tale about an impossible choice for a truck driver navigating a dangerous mountain road and the consequences of that choice. “In Memory of Miss Willow Yang” is a strange yet evocative story loaded with symbolism that concerns a blind man, a dead girl, and a series of bombings. “Love Story” is a bitter moment of history when two lifelong partners can no longer recognize their love, while “A History of Two People” charts the mundane intersections of two lovers’ lives over the course of more than 50 years. Finally, “Summer Typhoon” is a classic example of one of Hua’s many bildungsroman stories, about a young man’s fateful summer in 1976.
Knowing the writer Yu has become, it’s interesting to look back at his work when he was at his fiercest.