Mai Jia’s Favourite Modern Chinese Novels

I am very interested in the novel Decoded by Mai Jia and while reading about Jia on GoodReads I found this lovely list of his favourite modern Chinese novels which I thought I would share with you.  First though, here is a bit about what I hope to be a wonderful book:

Decoded by Mai Jia

Decoded

Decoded tells the story of Rong Jinzhwen, one of the great code-breakers in the world. A semi-autistic mathematical genius, Jinzhen is recruited to the cryptography department of China’s secret services, Unit 701, where he is assigned the task of breaking the elusive ‘Code Purple’. Jinzhen rises through the ranks to eventually become China’s greatest and most celebrated code-breaker; until he makes a mistake. Then begins his descent through the unfathomable darkness of the world of cryptology into madness.

Red Sorghum by Mo Yan

Red Sorghum

Jia: “Thanks to Mo Yan, thanks to this particular novel, contemporary Chinese literature has gone in a completely fresh direction with a renewed sense of purpose.

GoodReads Blurb: Spanning three generations, Red Sorghum, a novel of family and myth, is told through a series of flashbacks that depict events of staggering horror set against a landscape of gemlike beauty, as the Chinese battle both Japanese invaders and each other in the turbulent war years of the 1930s. (read more on GoodReads)

Red Poppies by Alai

Red Poppies

Jia: “…one of the best novels to have been published in China in recent years, where the suspense is brought to a devastating resolution. Only a novel could do justice to such an epic theme: the rise and fall of the last of the traditional Tibetan chieftains.

GoodReads Blurb: Red Poppies is the story of the Maichi family, its powerful chieftain, his Han Chinese wife, his first son and presumptive heir, and his second, “idiot,” son, the novel’s narrator and unlikely hero. The time is the 1930s, the setting a stone fortress overlooking all the family rules, the arid plains of eastern Tibet, and a thinly scattered populous of peasant farmers, merchants, and ineffectual, often comical local lamas. A feud breaks out with a neighboring chieftain; an emissary from the Chinese Nationalists comes to the Maichis’ aid with the tools of modern warfare. In exchange, fields of bright red poppies, valuable in the Nationalist-sponsored heroin trade, are to be planted instead of grain in a deal that makes the family even richer and earns them the enmity of nearly everyone. (read more on GoodReads)

The Song of Everlasting Sorrow: A Novel of Shanghai by Wang Anyi

The Song of Everlasting Sorrow: A Novel of Shanghai

Jia: “…this novel serves to shine a narrow beam of light upon another kind of truth about life in China.”

GoodReads Blurb: Set in post-World War II Shanghai, “The Song of Everlasting Sorrow” follows the adventures of Wang Qiyao, a girl born of the “longtong,” the crowded, labyrinthine alleys of Shanghai’s working-class neighborhoods.  Infatuated with the glitz and glamour of 1940s Hollywood, Wang Qiyao seeks fame in the Miss Shanghai beauty pageant, and this fleeting moment of stardom becomes the pinnacle of her life. During the next four decades, Wang Qiyao indulges in the decadent pleasures of pre-liberation Shanghai, secretly playing mahjong during the antirightist Movement and exchanging lovers on the eve of the Cultural Revolution. Surviving the vicissitudes of modern Chinese history, Wang Qiyao emerges in the 1980s as a purveyor of “old Shanghai”–a living incarnation of a new, commodified nostalgia that prizes splendor and sophistication–only to become embroiled in a tragedy that echoes the pulpy Hollywood noirs of her youth. (read more on GoodReads)

The King of Trees by Ah Cheng

The King of Trees: Three Novellas: The King of Trees, The King of Chess, The King of Children

Jia: It is impossible to classify his ‘Three Kings,’ for these novels represent Ah Cheng’s unique creative vision. He is that rare creature among contemporary novelists in China: an intellectual with a profound understanding of the culture and way of life of Chinese people today.”

GoodReads Blurb: When the three novellas in The King of Trees were published separately in China in the 1980s, “Ah Cheng fever” spread across the country. Never before had a fiction writer dealt with the Cultural Revolution in such Daoist-Confucian terms, discarding Mao-speak, and mixing both traditional and vernacular elements with an aesthetic that emphasized not the hardships and miseries of those years, but the joys of close, meaningful friendships. In The King of Chess, a student’s obsession with finding worthy chess opponents symbolizes his pursuit of the dao; in The King of Children—made into an award-winning film by Chen Kaige, the director of Farewell My Concubine—an educated youth is sent to teach at an impoverished village school where one boy’s devotion to learning is so great he is ready to spend 500 days copying his teacher’s dictionary; and in the title novella a peasant’s innate connection to a giant primeval tree takes a tragic turn when a group of educated youth arrive to clear the mountain forest. As moving and enduring as the best of Jack London or Knut Hamsun, The King of Trees is as relevant today as it will be tomorrow.  (read more on GoodReads)

Dream of Ding Village by Yan Lianke

Dream of Ding Village

Jia: “If viewed from a strictly literary viewpoint, there are many things to criticize about Dream of Ding Village, but there are two things about this book that are worthy of admiration. First, it shows that a novelist can act as a social conscience, and secondly, that novelists should keep their eyes open to the realities of the world around them.”

GoodReads Blurb: Officially censored upon its Chinese publication, and the subject of a bitter lawsuit between author and publisher, Dream of Ding Village is Chinese novelist Yan Lianke’s most important novel to date. Set in a poor village in Henan province, it is a deeply moving and beautifully written account of a blood-selling ring in contemporary China. Based on a real-life blood-selling scandal in eastern China, Dream of Ding Village is the result of three years of undercover work by Yan Lianke, who worked as an assistant to a well-known Beijing anthropologist in an effort to study a small village decimated by HIV/AIDS as a result of unregulated blood selling. Whole villages were wiped out with no responsibility taken or reparations paid. Dream of Ding Village focuses on one family, destroyed when one son rises to the top of the Party pile as he exploits the situation, while another son is infected and dies. The result is a passionate and steely critique of the rate at which China is developing and what happens to those who get in the way. (read more on GoodReads)

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