Paperback, 318 pages
Published September 10th 2010 by Shanghai Press
Source: Tuttle Books
I’m going to review a selection of the stories in this collection so you can get a sense of collection.
“Wilderness Under the Moon” by Jin Yiming
This tale is about a boy out on his first hunt with his father and grandfather. He shoots a lone wolf without knowing that that is nothing you ought to do. His actions lead to a pack of wolves chasing the boy and his grandpa and father as they attempt to get away on a sled. His grandfather tells him about his uncle who, too, had shot a lone wolf and the only part of his body they had regained was his head. Eerie and surreal, there is a sense of danger and history to this tale that make it a great opening story for the anthology.
“Three Cents Worth of Tofu” by Ren Danxing
This tale pretty much broke about my heart. The story is about two boys who go to their grandma’s house in a province far away and there they taste three cents worth of tofu for the first time in their lives. What happens after illustrates their poverty without overstatement or melodrama. The story is humbling–you don’t realize how much you have until you’re faced with people (fictional though they may be) who don’t have anything. Beautifully told and translated.
“The Night Gatherer’s Offspring” – Ren Dalin
This, too, is about poverty and the lengths to which a grandmother goes to provide her grandchild with food. Soft, sad, and tragic, this lets the Western reader glimpse a very different kind of life.
“Mugen Sells Vegetables” – Xu Feng, Shen Zhenming
Would you sell your soul to sell your vegetables? In this story which is a bit lighter in tone than the others, two boys sell vegetables in two different ways and the question of what can be commodified arises. It’s an interesting tale and while the protagonist was a bit too stuffy for my taste, the story provides an interesting insight on the values of the society for which the story was written.
“On the Way” – Mei Zihan
A boy decides to take his grandmother to the movies and along the way he reflects on what she has done for him and the attitude with which he treats her currently. An unflinching look at the thankless task of raising children who forget the sacrifices parents and grandparents make. It should have been heavy-handed but the author makes his point without preaching. This is sad but well told.
“A Locked Drawer” – Chan Danyan
This story was the first one that has a female protagonist and honestly, it is my least favourite amongst the ones I have read so far. The translation isn’t well done, there are obvious grammar mistakes but moving beyond that, the story is too didactic and has been written with the intent of furthering an ideal. The protagonist is growing up and noticing her body changing. She keeps a diary and like all adolescents seeks to keep it secret. But her parents act as though she’s committing some kind of treason and take her to task for wanting some privacy. The girl tears her diary and throws away her paper-ed thoughts. Then she decides to share everything of herself with her parents, all her inner thoughts, and they live happily ever after.
Yeah no. I found it a shame that the better stories so far have male protagonists and when a female does make an appearance in a story, it’s an obviously didactic one. I hope future stories treat female protagonists better.
Unfortunately, the stories in here are rather skewed in terms of their offerings. While the stories earlier in the book are complex and layered, the later stories are varied. The translations are badly done–the grammar, the spelling and even the words used are wrong. I don’t know why this is so because I’d think the book has been vetted multiple times but unfortunately, there you have it. There are also stories that depict explicit cruelty to animals and while I understand the disparity in culture that allows such a thing, I could not handle it as a reader and this soured my reading experience. Another story felt like thinly disguised propaganda in favour of war (about a dog choosing to die in battle rather than in retirement) and well, no thank you. There are not enough stories with actualized female characters. I’m sure such stories exist–this title just doesn’t have many examples of them.
Sadly, this has been the first review book from Tuttle that I cannot in good conscience recommend. But I do have one last title from them to read and review so let’s pin our hopes on that!