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.

....
The Indian
The Indian by Jón Gnarr
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

The opening of Jón Gnarr’s novel/memoir The Indian is a playful bit of extravagant ego, telling the traditional story of creation, where the “Let there be light!” moment is also the moment of his birth on January 2nd, 1967. Then. . .

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Mother of 1084; Old Women; Breast Stories
Mother of 1084; Old Women; Breast Stories by Mahasweta Devi
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

Mahasweta Devi is not only one of the most prolific Bengali authors, but she’s also an important activist. In fact, for Devi, the two seem to go together. As you can probably tell from the titles, she writes about women. . .

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Tristana
Tristana by Benito Pérez Galdós
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

The prolific Spanish author Benito Pérez Galdós wrote his short novel, Tristana, during the closing years of the nineteenth century, a time when very few options were available to women of limited financial means who did not want a husband.. . .

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The History of Silence
The History of Silence by Pedro Zarraluki
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Pedro Zarraluki’s The History of Silence (trans. Nick Caistor and Lorenza García) begins with the narrator and his wife, Irene, setting out to write a book about silence, itself called The History of Silence: “This is the story of how. . .

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Flesh-Coloured Dominoes
Flesh-Coloured Dominoes by Zigmunds Skujiņš
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

There are plenty of reasons you can fail to find the rhythm of a book. Sometimes it’s a matter of discarding initial assumptions or impressions, sometimes of resetting oneself. Zigmunds Skujiņš’s Flesh-Coloured Dominoes was a defining experience in the necessity. . .

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Iraqi Nights
Iraqi Nights by Dunya Mikhail
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

In a culture that privileges prose, reviewing poetry is fairly pointless. And I’ve long since stopped caring about what the world reads and dropped the crusade to get Americans to read more poems. Part of the fault, as I’ve suggested. . .

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Three-Light Years
Three-Light Years by Andrea Canobbio
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

I would like to pose the argument that it is rare for one to ever come across a truly passive protagonist in a novel. The protagonist (perhaps) of Three Light-Years, Claudio Viberti, is just that—a shy internist who lives in. . .

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