Straying for a moment from fiction and poetry reviews, we asked Patrick to contribute re this translated memoir from poet Liao Yiwu, who—let’s just keep it simple—has been through a hell of a lot and then some. Here’s the beginning of Patrick’s review.
With two previous versions confiscated by Chinese authorities before being published in Germany in 2011, and coming now into English with an introduction by 2009 Nobel Prize winner Herta Müller, Liao Yiwu’s memoir of years spent in a human rights–violating Chinese prison comes with immediate political and social creditials; For a Song and a Hundred Songs is a book that you, the educated, enlightened reader “should” read, to learn more about that culturally relevant Other. Yet, with the author’s honesty, poetical eye and ear, and dedication to his own personal sense of China, it becomes something so much more interesting.
Opening with a brief account of his older sister’s life and her tragic death in a bus accident, Liao Yiwu makes it clear that this work is a personal endeavor, calling her his “first imaginary reader.” He begins before the student protests, outside of them, marking change in China by the era of automobiles instead of with any political changes. It soon becomes clear that Yiwu did not intend to be a political poet, in fact had no interest in the process or aims of such poetry. This attitude remains recognizable in him even today. On a number of occasions, he finds bitter, humored satisfaction in knowing that his most loyal readers are policemen reading his writing, looking for threatening political messages, trying to decipher hidden means to object to, an effort which in the end serves as the authorities imbuing the work with a threatening power that was not there till they found it.
Fpr the rest of the review, go here.
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