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:

....
The Dispossessed
The Dispossessed by Szilárd Borbély
Reviewed by Jason Newport

To be, or not to be?

Hamlet’s enduring question is one that Szilárd Borbély, acclaimed Hungarian poet, verse-playwright, librettist, essayist, literary critic, short-story writer, and, finally, novelist, answered sadly in the negative, through his suicide in 2014, at the. . .

Read More >

A Greater Music
A Greater Music by Bae Suah
Reviewed by Pierce Alquist

A Greater Music is the first in a line of steady and much-anticipated releases by Bae Suah from key indie presses (this one published by Open Letter). Building off of the interest of 2016 Best Translated Book Award longlist nominee. . .

Read More >

Two Lost Souls: on "Revulsion" and "Cabo De Gata"
Two Lost Souls: on "Revulsion" and "Cabo De Gata" by Horacio Castellanos Moya; Eugen Ruge
Reviewed by Tim Lebeau

The dislocation of individuals from the countries of their birth has long been a common theme in contemporary literature. These two short novels recently translated into English appear firmly rooted in this tradition of ex-pat literature, but their authors eschew. . .

Read More >

Melancholy
Melancholy by László Földényi
Reviewed by Jason Newport

In Melancholy, Hungarian author, critic, and art theorist László Földényi presents a panorama of more than two thousand years of Western historical and cultural perspectives on the human condition known as melancholia. In nine chapters, Földényi contrasts the hero worship. . .

Read More >

The Hatred of Music
The Hatred of Music by Pascal Quignard
Reviewed by Jeanne Bonner

Pascal Quignard’s __The Hatred of Music_ is the densest, most arcane, most complex book I’ve read in ages. It’s also a book that covers a topic so basic, so universal—almost primordial—that just about any reader will be perversely thrilled by. . .

Read More >

Fragile Travelers
Fragile Travelers by Jovanka Živanović
Reviewed by Damian Kelleher

In Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Flaubert attempted to highlight the ordinary, tired, and often crass nature of common expressions by italicising them within the text. When Charles, Emma Bovary’s mediocre husband, expresses himself in a manner akin to that of. . .

Read More >

Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei
Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei by Eliot Weinberger
Reviewed by Russell Guilbault

Eliot Weinberger takes big strides across literary history in his genuinely breathtaking short work, 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, tracking translations of a short ancient Chinese poem from the publication of Ezra Pound’s Cathay in 1915 to Gary. . .

Read More >