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.
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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To have watched from one of your patios
the ancient stars
from the bank of shadow to have watched
the scattered lights
my ignorance has learned no names for
nor their places in constellations
to have heard the ring of. . .
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