15 May 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Two of my friends have memoirs coming out this spring (the other being Gideon Lewis-Kraus’s A Sense of Direction), which is a sort of interesting phenomenon. I don’t typically read a lot of memoirs, but when it’s someone you know? . . . That’s extra intriguing. I don’t know either Gideon or Wen all that well, yet I know them well enough to know that I really like them and am curious to find out more about their lives, both in the events that shaped them and the way they write and share their take on these events.

So this week, I took a couple nights to get sucked into Wen Huang’s The Little Red Guard, which opens

At the age of ten, I slept next to a coffin that Father had made for Grandma’s seventy-third birthday. He forbade us from calling it a “coffin” and insisted that we refer to it as shou mu, which means something like “longevity wood.” To me, it seemed a strange name for the box in which we’d bury Grandma, but it served a practical purpose. It was less spooky to share my room with a “longevity wood” than with a big black coffin.

It’s through this lens of Wen’s Grandma’s impending death, and all the complications this causes his family, that he provides a picture of what it was like coming-of-age during the years leading up to the Tiananmen Square incident. The basic conflict—as described on the back of the book—is that Grandma insists on being buried next to her dead husband at a time when all burials are outlawed, thus putting Wen’s father (a devout member of the Party) into a really tricky space where he has negotiate his belief in Communism and Mao with his filial duties and love for his mother.

The whole book is really interesting, in part because it adds all new dimensions to my understanding of what makes Wen, Wen, but also because I don’t know all that much about Chinese life during this period. At least not a in a way that is personal, thoughtful, touching, and sincere. (All qualities Wen has as a person are also evident in his writing.)

I don’t want to write a formal review (right now), but I do want to say that this memoir is a wonderful portrait of a family caught in all the various changes that swept through China in the latter half of the twentieth century. All the shifting values, belief systems, etc.—it’s all very fascinating to read about, especially told in such a remarkably earnest fashion.

It’s worth noting that in addition to authoring this book, Wen has translated two books: The Corpse Walker by Liao Yiwu and Women from Shanghai by Xianhui Yang. Through all of these books—and his writings for Publishing Perspectives—Wen is doing a lot to bring Chinese perspectives to English readers, and for this alone he deserves to be applauded.

For more information on The Little Red Guard, check out this post on the New Yorker blog, or this profile in the Chicago Tribune, or the video below:

....
Astragal
Astragal by Albertine Sarrazin
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

Upon completing Albertine Sarrazin’s Astragal I was left to wonder why it ever fell from print. Aside from the location, Astragal could pass as the great American novel. Its edginess and rawness capture the angst and desires we all had. . .

Read More >

Live Bait
Live Bait by Fabio Genovesi
Reviewed by Megan Berkobien

When my eyes first crossed the back cover of Fabio Genovesi’s novel Live Bait, I was caught by a blurb nestled between accolades, a few words from a reviewer for La Repubblica stating that the novel was, however magically, “[b]eyond. . .

Read More >

The Skin
The Skin by Curzio Malaparte
Reviewed by Peter Biello

“I preferred the war to the plague,” writes Curzio Malaparte in his 1949 novel, The Skin. He speaks of World War II and the destruction it has wrought on Italy, the city of Naples in particular. But the plague he. . .

Read More >

Love Sonnets & Elegies
Love Sonnets & Elegies by Louise Labé
Reviewed by Brandy Harrison

With the steady rise of feminist scholarship and criticism in recent decades, it is little wonder that the work of Louise Labé should be attracting, as Richard Sieburth tells us in the Afterword to his translation, a “wide and thriving”. . .

Read More >

Conversations
Conversations by César Aira
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

In Conversations, we find ourselves again in the protagonist’s conscious and subconscious, which is mostly likely that of Mr. César Aira and consistent with prototypical Aira style. This style never fails because each time Aira is able to develop a. . .

Read More >

Nothing Ever Happens
Nothing Ever Happens by José Ovejero
Reviewed by Juan Carlos Postigo

You are not ashamed of what you do, but of what they see you do. Without realizing it, life can be an accumulation of secrets that permeates every last minute of our routine . . .

The narrative history of. . .

Read More >

The Pendragon Legend
The Pendragon Legend by Antal Szerb
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Literature in translation often comes with a certain pedigree. In this little corner of the world, with so few books making it into this comforting nook, it is often those of the highest quality that cross through, and attention is. . .

Read More >