Remembering 1942 and Other Chinese Stories by Liu Zhenyun, translated by Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-chun Lin [in Booklist]
Mao Dun Award–winning novelist Liu Zhenyun (The Cook, the Crook, and the Real Estate Tycoon, 2015) adroitly confronts Very Big Topics – family, education, work, bureaucracy, the military, history – in his first translated-into-English story collection.
“Tofu” exposes the numbing tribulations of being a poor family in Beijing. “Education” bares the grueling sacrifices common citizens make to even attempt higher education. “Office” and “Officials” divulge the labyrinthine rituals and relationships of surviving (or not) as peons and government employees. “Recruits” depicts army trainees whose challenges go far beyond the physical.
In the eponymous final story, the collection’s highlight, the narrator returns to his home province of Henan to gather information about the real-life famine that claimed three million lives. Tragically, in the global context of 1942, history well remembers Churchill and Gandhi, who made headlines for catching cold and going on a hunger strike, but the Chinese millions remain forever lost.
In just six stories (each of near-novella length, fluently rendered by notable translators Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-chu Lin), Liu rigorously confronts major facets of contemporary Chinese society with judicious insight and shrewd indictments.