Friday, February 27, 2015

Review of Boy In the Twilight by Yu Hua

Yu Hua’s Boy in the Twilight: Stories of the Hidden China is a collection of stories translated from Chinese. Until I read this book, I was unfamiliar with this author, and, truthfully, any knowledge of modern China other than what I see on the news.

My feelings about this book have changed somewhat since I finished it.  It helped to discuss it in my book club, where my questions transitioned from “Why is this book so awful to read?” to “What does all the violence and treachery represent?”

I found the stories to be disturbing. There is an assortment of un-powerful people trying to assert power over even weaker people.  Bullies are everywhere, in the form of gangs of young men tormenting disabled people, shrewish women taking freedom away from husbands, regular commuters jockeying violently for a place on crowded buses home, corrupt corporations rewarding workers unfairly…and on and on. The reading experience, for me, was unpleasant.

After some time and reflection, I have to admit that the stories do make me curious to find out more about how this author is received in China. He has quite a bibliography – five novels, six story collections, and three essay collections – and he has won a host of prizes.  In what ways do people resonate with the ideas that his stories consider? What other reading would I need to do to better sink into and understand the post-Cultural Revolution experiences he portrays? And the title – “Stories of the Hidden China?” Hidden from whom? (And one of our book club members asked if the English version of the title was actually created by the author….)

Of course, the internet carries some answers. Here’s an interesting interview with the author (with some commentary on Chinese censorship of books).  Here’s an older article about the author from 2009, and a newer New York Times column he wrote about modern Chinese life.

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