15 September 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Zero and Other Fictions is a collection that displays a unique range. Huang Fan has been writing for over 30 years and it shows (though he may have been secluded for nearly a decade during this time, studying Buddhism and not writing much fiction). The “other fictions” included in this collection include a satirical tale of an unknowing political pawn, a humorous allegorical story of enterprise told through infidelity, and a bizarre metafictional piece that includes small illustrations among its many elements. This collection is concise; it is tight, dense, and powerful. Huang Fan is a different writer at every turn, and at each of these turns, a true craftsman.

The prose in “Lai Suo,” the unwitting pawn of a man, emphasizes the protagonist’s lack of agency—he is constantly subjected to experience:

He seemed to hear a number of other sounds. His two maple-leaf ears were completely exposed to the continuous noise on the street—buses, trucks, cabs, motorcycles, as well as the occasional siren of an ambulance as it rushed by. All of these sounds knocked on Lai Suo’s eardrums as if they wanted to penetrate even deeper, but were stopped in the middle by something—it was like an acoustic tile on which was inscribed: LAI SUO, TAIPEI, JUNE 1978, TRAVELER THROUGH TIME AND SPACE.

In the metafiction of “How To Measure a Ditch,” Huang turns directly to his audience:

Well, what eventually happened to those two young ladies? I’m sure a number of readers will be interested in learning if I became friends with one of them or we fell in love.

I won’t say yes and I won’t say no.

My answer is that the future developments with the two young ladies have nothing to do with this story. They returned to their real lives. Like you, as far as they were concerned, this matter was simply one of those occasional variables in life.

As you read this story, you also are “involved in” the story; it’s just that the way you enter the story is completely different from the way those two young ladies entered.

The final story in the collection is Zero, which as Balcom explains in his interview, was revolutionary for the political context in which it appeared. With this in mind, and having read his prose, which leaves no room for error, it seems that Huang is a writer whose words are wrought with an artist’s ideal in mind, that Huang’s literary work is motivated by a pure force that does not cater to even his own whims. Zero is one of Huang’s first attempts at science fiction, and while it does harken back to dystopian classics such as 1984 (with a small “Winston” cameo), it does not leave the reader a satisfying conclusion about where the truth really lies, which is infuriatingly simultaneously unsatisfying and satisfying.

These stories are no small introduction to Huang Fan.

15 September 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s Read This Next title is Zero and Other Fictions by Huang Fan and translated from the Chinese by John Balcom. Columbia University Press is bringing this out on October 4th. Here’s Lily Ye’s description:

Huang is a celebrated modern Taiwanese writer who has been writing for over 30 years. This is his first collection to appear in English, curated and translated by John Balcom who has graciously also contributed an interview to this feature. Much of Huang’s writing is political in nature, and in this collection we have stories representative of each of the various stages of his writing career. Here the stories range from metafiction to allegory to the science-fiction dystopian writing of Zero, which takes up the majority of the collection.

You can read a sample here, and an interview with John Balcom here.

Lily Ye: Huang’s writing, at least within this collection, is certainly very political. Where do you think that Huang Fan stands within the literary scene of Taiwan, and what is his importance?

John Balcom: I would say that every piece is political. Huang has always been way out in front when it comes to commenting on society, politics, and culture in Taiwan. His subtle grasp of the local situation has always provided fodder for his critical mind. He often dealt with subjects no one else wrote about, but which were of great interest – he struck a chord in the popular imagination and shook up the literary scene. His writing, when it appeared, was often quite revolutionary, often in terms of content, but also sometimes in terms of style – witness “How to Measure the Width of a Ditch”. However, thirty years later, we tend to forget what an impact his writing had – it’s sort of like reading Gide today.

LY: How would you characterize him in contrast to other modern Chinese writers like Cao Naiqian, who you’ve also translated? Do you know how is he perceived within Mainland China?

JB: It is really difficult to compare his work to that of say, Cao Naiqian. In a sense, they are writing out of two entirely different milieus and traditions. A better comparison might be between Huang’s use of the Sci-fi genre and that of Chang Hsi-kuo, the author of The City Trilogy. His work is known in mainland China, but by readers and specialists who know or study Taiwan literature.

LY: What do you think familiarity with his works will bring to Western audiences, and what would you like them to come away with?

JB: I think reading his work is essential for an understanding of post-War Sinophone literature. I would like readers to go away with a sense of his versatility as a writer.

Finally, here’s Lily’s review of Zero.

Zero and Other Fictions is a collection that displays a unique range. Huang Fan has been writing for over 30 years and it shows (though he may have been secluded for nearly a decade during this time, studying Buddhism and not writing much fiction). The “other fictions” included in this collection include a satirical tale of an unknowing political pawn, a humorous allegorical story of enterprise told through infidelity, and a bizarre metafictional piece that includes small illustrations among its many elements. This collection is concise; it is tight, dense, and powerful. Huang Fan is a different writer at every turn, and at each of these turns, a true craftsman.

All of this—the preview, the interview, the review—can be found by clicking here, where you can also read excerpts, etc., from the fourteen other titles we’ve featured so far.

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Miruna, a Tale
Miruna, a Tale by Bogdan Suceavă
Reviewed by Alta Ifland

Miruna is a novella written in the voice of an adult who remembers the summer he (then, seven) and his sister, Miruna (then, six) spent in the Evil Vale with their grandfather (sometimes referred to as “Grandfather,” other times as. . .

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Kamal Jann
Kamal Jann by Dominique Eddé
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

Kamal Jann by the Lebanese born author Dominique Eddé is a tale of familial and political intrigue, a murky stew of byzantine alliances, betrayals, and hostilities. It is a well-told story of revenge and, what’s more, a serious novel that. . .

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I Called Him Necktie
I Called Him Necktie by Milena Michiko Flašar
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

While looking back at an episode in his life, twenty-year-old Taguchi Hiro remembers what his friend Kumamoto Akira said about poetry.

Its perfection arises precisely from its imperfection . . . . I have an image in my head. I see. . .

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Return to Killybegs
Return to Killybegs by Sorj Chalandon
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

The central concern of Sorj Chalandon’s novel Return to Killybegs appears to be explaining how a person of staunch political activism can be lead to betray his cause, his country, his people. Truth be told, the real theme of the. . .

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The Last Days
The Last Days by Laurent Seksik
Reviewed by Peter Biellp

Spoiler alert: acclaimed writer Stefan Zweig and his wife Lotte kill themselves at the end of Lauren Seksik’s 2010 novel, The Last Days.

It’s hard to avoid spoiling this mystery. Zweig’s suicide actually happened, in Brazil in 1942, and since then. . .

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Selected Stories
Selected Stories by Kjell Askildsen
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

To call Kjell Askildsen’s style sparse or terse would be to understate just how far he pushes his prose. Almost nothing is explained, elaborated on. In simple sentences, events occur, words are exchanged, narrators have brief thoughts. As often as. . .

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Letter from an Unknown Woman and Other Stories
Letter from an Unknown Woman and Other Stories by Stefan Zweig
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

After a mysterious woman confesses to an author simply known as “R” that she has loved him since she was a teenager, she offers the following explanation: “There is nothing on earth like the love of a child that passes. . .

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