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“The Invisibility Cloak” by Ge Fei

The Invisibility Cloak by Ge Fei—translated beautifully from the Chinese, albeit with a certain appealing clunkiness, by Canaan Morse—is the first of his novels to be translated into English. It tells the story of two Beijings: The grimy, hardscrabble Beijing, inhabited by gangsters and hustlers; and the shiny, modern Beijing, home to professors and international businessmen. These twin cities, both equally real and equally fantastic, exist side by side, and...

From “Notes of a Crocodile”

She was used to relying on other people. I had a habit of protecting girls. If she was in class at a set time, for a set time, I was there to soak it up. In class I was a show-off, but from the moment classes ended till the moment they started up again, I was gone. Her long hair trailed over her shoulders. Her elegant clothing gave her the appearance of being around twenty-four or twenty-five. That entire year I went for a kind of misfit look, wearing outdated jeans that made me look barely...

From “Qibla”

(Night. Nadie, an Indonesian domestic worker, lies beneath a mosquito net with Granny, the woman she was employed to look after.) GRANNY:  Mosquitoes. NADIE:       I put up the net. There can’t be mosquitoes. GRANNY:   Mosquitoes! NADIE:       Argh! You’re doing this on purpose! GRANNY:   Ha ha! It’s my pak . . . pak . . . (She slaps a mosquito with each “pak.”)...

From “The Ringing of the Rain has a Forgiving Grace”

11-14 A tangerine sun gave my birdcage a ripe rinsing Its spacious temporary closure is uncommonly loud and clear Dead ringer for a dime   12-25 Fingertips are spark-tinted. Their milk contains one-percent fat Slow results. Delay dowager’s hump. Low-lying pain. A leaky fist. I am willing to carve you a ten-second slice of winter. 嘹亮的雨水有原諒的美 © Ye Mimi. By arrangement with the author....

Wedding in Autumn

“Ah Ju’s back!” Ah Ju, the girl from the road crew dormitory. That’s what we all called her, because that’s where she grew up. She disappeared for a quite a while, but now she was back, and she brought two people with her: her fiancé, and her unborn child. I hadn’t seen her pregnant belly yet, so I didn’t know if it was a bump or a peak, if she was going to have a boy or a girl. But if there’s one thing I did know, it’s that women...

Outcast

1. It was a winter’s night, the kind with icy winds that blew so hard they tore into one’s pores and a cold that was enough to make each lonely heart freeze over. There, in the park, a ghostly young man drifted, a wandering soul with no family or friends to rely on. His black eyes flashed beneath the murky gray lamppost light as he watched me walking toward him. “This late and you’re not going home yet?” I patted one of his hunched up shoulders and he made an...

New in Chinese: \“The Chilli Bean Paste Clan\” by YAN Ge

You might imagine that I thought long and hard in choosing my best untranslated book, because China has so many writers and so little of their work reaches the West, at least in English. But I plumped without any hesitation for Yan Ge’s The Chilli Bean Paste Clan. (The title in Chinese is 《我们家》Our Family.) This is a family drama that manages to be both warm and funny, and barbed and irreverent. The novel is set in a (fictional) small Sichuan town in...

Is Translation Edible?

The plate can be a tricky place for translators. Who’s in charge, the brain or the stomach? Do words reveal or hide what’s on the plate? Food is culture much more than it is words, and learning the names of new foods and pantry items is only step one. Culture does not reside in dictionaries. It turns slippery when we try to sink our teeth into it. I have been linked to Chinese since childhood, growing up in Taiwan. What makes Chinese cuisine such a good example of language in...

Very Cheesy and Also Rather Blah

carefully giving it some thought the lines on my palm[1] have deflected for you some now I suppose my dirty beard, my fiendish leg hair will graduate in time that someone of my years should care about minutiae but it’s true I never held you in my arms those training grounds where one prepares for hardship even the most majestic backdrop wouldn’t be a match for this bucktoothed “Cheese” into the camera ke-cha! then good-bye good-bye no one can...

A Beethoven Chronology

On a certain day in a certain month of the Enlightenment clear skies      light winds out of the southwest high in the low 70s Beethoven is born in a bed on a certain day in a certain month of the Enlightenment a soap dish tumbles to the floor the other foot steps into a slipper Mozart says keep your eye on this Beethoven he’s going to rock the world on a certain day in a certain month of the Enlightenment “Hello! Good evening!”...

Your Dog

a dog lives it’s your shadow it learns about life learns to go to toilets learns to run forward with a lighter in its mouth once you take out a cigarette not only does it run forward with a lighter in its mouth it tugs your sock too and runs about like you’ve been everywhere it barks at the mirror full of fear when you fart it straightens its ears you go to the washroom, it rummages behind the toilet bowl you write, it’ll knock out some nonsense on the...

Soul

We had a visitation from a woman who’d been dead for many years we felt her presence but see her we could not heard her voice instructing us to turn the hand-crank of the projector in the room (there’s always a room with one) and as the sprockets clicked the flywheels spun a cone of light (it’s always a cone of light) illumined a corner of the room where she appeared   like every spirit ought to we were so bewitched we quite forgot to ask her what the afterlife was...

A Couple’s Old Sutra

She is old breasts sagging like bags of flour River runs from their hometown people on two banks change batch after batch like summer fireflies that glow and dim But the river won’t change in its capacity to reflect the moon If impermanence still saddens me I must be a fool Translation of   "Fu fu lao gu jing. " Copyright Yang Jian. By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 2011 by Fiona Sze-Lorrain. All rights reserved.

Narratives of 1960

Grandmother’s last clothing is a reed mat her coffin a small fishing boat The year was 1960 She stole a kilo of yellow beans Those who ordered her to kneel on snail shells are mostly dead Those still alive are also old Some are tending shops some sleep or herd ducks Translation of   "Yi jiu liu ling nian ji shi. "  Copyright Yang Jian. By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 2011 by Fiona Sze-Lorrain. All rights reserved.

Exploding Cow

In Shandong, someone sticks a plastic tube through the cow’s nostril and into its stomach, then pours water. The animal collapses, limbs dangling skyward, belly swollen. Docile black eyes stare out in terror. These eyes, this belly will soon explode, but the man who pours water in the cow is still laughing.   Translation of “Bao zha de niu” Copyright Yang Zi. By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 2010 by Fiona Sze-Lorain, Ye Chun, and...

A History of Condo Sales

Part I. You wouldn’t notice it in the daylight. Instead, you’d be distracted by the bustling streets (perhaps by a tow truck, a crippled street vendor, a cab you’d hail, your eyes flitting between cab-top advertisements). Looking up is a hassle anyway. You’d have to crane your neck, tilt your nostrils helplessly upwards, exposing them to the drip of window AC units. And so our company’s gigantic neon sign escapes your sight, perched atop an eighteen-story...

Crow

I learned the lines of this noun one bright day in the classroom. That evening I saw its black wings detach from the sky and descend in circles like a parachute toward us, my sister and me, to cover our bodies. Oh, my sister came out from under the walnut tree that stood in the yard, slowly, carefully walking into her bedroom, right into the mouth of a giant crow. Later, far from home, among demolished houses, on my heart's wall, I saw a squadron of crows suddenly take...

December 2nd, 1997, at Night

A blizzard lures us toward Poland, bringing us almost to the border. We should have turned north at Dresden, instead headed due East, to halt in open farmland whose sound is the lightest of rumbles. Later, filling up in a prison town, I realize we never noticed the Chopin on the radio. Read the author's "Sinologist"

The Sinologist

To leave the airport is to feel you've got off at the wrong stop. Where are the pavilions to drink rice wine in, the suburbs of love, the policemen using their rifles to lift skirts up with, the student to say that all books are useless? But when a first round of skittles is finished, one player tells the other: Disputed decisions shouldn't spoil our sauna. All evening long they try to beat each other at losing. How disturbing that grief of incomprehension must...

The Five O’Clock Graveyard

If we sit side by side now, and say nothing for a whole half hour, and you say only that we get on fine without words, and you move away a little, for a good look at the grave almost opposite us, and you roll your eyes at me, because the dead are not to be laughed at, and you'll sit alone on the bench I'm sitting on, I'll be opposite you, opposite you, lying prone. Read the author's "Made in the Rain"

Footnotes Like Skyscrapers

"I want translations with copious footnotes, footnotes reaching up like skyscrapers to the top of this or that page so as to leave only the gleam of one textual line between commentary and eternity." So says Nabokov with regard to translating Pushkin.1 Skyscrapers indeed! Judging by the translated fiction on the market, most publishers appear to prefer such notes kept at a minimum. One can divide the rarefied world of translation theory roughly into two camps: those who are faithful to...

from “Serve the People!”

The novel is the only place for a great many of life's truths. Because it is only in fiction that certain facts can be held up to the light. The novel it is, then, for this particular truth. The story I'm about to tell, you see, bears some resemblance to real characters and events. Or—if I may put it this way: life has imitated art, re-rehearsing the plot of Serve the People! Wu Dawang, Sergeant of the Catering Squad, now General Orderly for the Division Commander and...

Landing

Flying over God's mountains, canyons, wastelands glimmering with foxfire, graveyards where owls vanish and appear, you drop from the stars like a soul being born, and still bearing the toxins of your own world, glide down to whatever destiny awaits. Dawn struggles up from the torn clouds of houses, yet even a miserable village twitters at sunrise, the trees filled with magpies, the river with sewage— here's someone's adopted city, another's hometown....

Discovery

even ants tremble at nightfall even stones suffer insomnia even moonlight's so polluted men's shadows thin to mist even the mountaintop swells as if ready to blow even the Tang Dynasty fell into decline even in the trashcan people are living even optimists are uncertain how to live even men with fallen shoulders want to leave home even the tiger was beaten down by Wu Song even Wu Song can be scourged for his crimes and put in chains even the law has holes even...

At 30

The first ten years of my life, as the moon exposed its silent craters to my small city far below, the streets filled with shouts, gongs and drums drove out devils, my lame uncle cursed in the yard, and careless, I got kissed by the white rooster's beak. A little girl pulled her pants down before me, and once I ran into the ghost of a suicide on the stairs, but my father raised me high overhead and told me not to fear. Hailstones bounced their lives out on the walk to the...

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