Thirteen new translations of stories by one of China’s most outspoken critics of the Cultural Revolution.
Hua (China in Ten Words, 2011, etc.) can be hard to put into context since his work comes out in fits and starts due to the peculiarities of translation. These stories date from the mid-1990s and examine the lives of modern Chinese men and women through the prism of cynicism and violence. That subtext of violence appears in several stories, including the title story, where a boy’s finger is broken, and the final story, “Friends,” which ends with a no-holds-barred fistfight. Drunken revelry marks “Mid-Air Collisions.” “What a wonderful time that was, when we walked forever through the streets, singing our heads off; when we muttered dirty remarks as we checked out the pretty girls; when we smashed the street lamps all along the block; when we knocked on doors in the middle of the night and ran away...” Hua writes. The stories about relationships between husbands and wives are harder to take. “Why There Was No Music” finds cuckolded husband Horsie visiting a friend, Guo Bin, while his wife, Lü Yuan, is out of town. Horsie borrows three videos: a romance, a thriller and a pornographic video that turns out to feature Lü Yuan and Guo Bin. “Victory” finds a woman driven to the verge of divorce from the simple discovery of a hidden key, while “Why Do I Have to Get Married?” finds a young woman trying to serve as marriage counselor to a savagely fighting couple. The stories are spare and minimalist and quite well-composed, but the punctuation of violence and mistrust in them give them a disquieting tension.
Menacing vignettes from a crowded, hardhearted corner of the globe.