I Live in the Slums by Can Xue

I Live in the Slums by Can Xue

Chinese fiction

Original title – the stories were published in various publications and collected here.

Translators Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping

Source – personal copy

Well, this is the second book from Can Xue or as she is known Deng Xiaohua. I have read the first was the longlisted love in the new millennium which was longlisted for the Booker I read it but wasn’t a huge fan of it I have struggled with Chinese fiction over the years but was willing to try as this was a collection of short stories and  I remember reading at the time I read her novel that it was her medium as she had written over a 120 short stories over the years. Known for her Avant-garde and abstract style of writing. She had worked as a metal worker and then with her husband started a tailoring business before she wrote more she took the pen name Can Xue early on in her career.

The Old man sat up in bed, about to bandage his heel with a rag. He had prepared the rags earlier for this purpose. He made a lot of noise tearing up the cloth. He seemed top be strong, He kept wrapping his foot until it was encased in one large package. The pig squealed more and mpore incositently. they were on the verge of leaping out of the pen. He got out of bed and stepped on the floor without putting a shoe on his injured foot. He went outside to feed the pigs. What was this all about? Whu did he let the house mouse bite his heel ? Was therre a tumor there and he was letting the house mouse perform surgery? What admirable willpower ?

The foot getting nibble and the old man then wakes

I Live in the slums is a collection of 15 stories with the longer story the story of the slums being more of a novella than a short story. As with the story of the slums, the main story is a dark tale of the Chinese underclass our narrator opens with a bone of an old man being eaten a dead man I thought but no he then wakes this is the view of the underclass and later the story goes full circle as the same thing happens to the narrator with his foot being eaten and nibbled by a mouse. The stories view the poor lost voices of Modern China from the urban sprawl to the countryside. It captures that journey of many young chinese from the country to the town.  Almost what I felt is this is the reverse of the American dream as the characters are poor in the country but also those left behind those elders struggling. Then the nightmare of the city is captured catfish pool which shws the urban sprawl destroying the places. The stories are all avant garde and sometimes make the reader struggle but also make the stories hard to describe they are more absorb by the reader.

THe slums were my home, and also the hardest place for me to understand. Genrally speaking, I didn’t make a deliberate effort to understand it. Destiny drove me from one place to anpther. I’d been underground, I’d been to the city, and \i’d lived in all kinds of homes in the slums. There was often crises in my life; the threat of death was ongoing, but I was still alive. Could this be because my ancestors were living in the depths of memory and protecting me? Oh – that boundless pasture, that eagle disappearing into the vast qi, those kin who lay on their stomachsin the underbrush! Thinking of them, I felt I knew everything and was capable of anything. But this was in my memory. The reality was absolutely different. In reality, I knew almost noting, through I had experienced so much.

Near the end of the novella the story of the slums the narrator talks of his life in the slums.

I enjoyed this collection more than I had her Novel I was reminded at times of Herta Mullers writing there is a similar richness to her writing style. also a similar abstract sty;le that takes tiome to absorb as a read this is rich in images and is more about atomspehre setting and events than narrative. The stories have lots of little nods to what is wrong in china the underclasses Building come and go the sort of chaos that follows the unending urban sprawl that has eaten the countryside and spilt people from where they were. The main novella is very dark and has a feel of Kafka an unnamed narrator a downward spiral of life. I will be trying more books from Can Xue whch is a change as before this collection I wouldn’t have picked her up. But I know feel her style is more suit to the short form. Have you read Can Xue ? where next ?

WInstons Score = B  It grew on me.

April 2021
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