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Book of the Whenever: October 2020: 异兽志


roddy
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I'm a bit late to share this, but today at 11:30 am UK time/12:30 pm my time/19:30 HK time there is an event with Yan Ge and her translator Jeremy Tiang about this book. (And also Dorothy Tse and Natascha Bruce.) It's part of the Hong Kong International Literature Festival. Tickets are 50 HK$ and more information is here. Possibly it can be viewed at a later time as well.

 

@Luxi@roddy

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  • 2 weeks later...

I finally watched this event and it was really interesting and worthwhile. Some background on when and how Yan Ge wrote the book (chased by her editor, much like her main character) and about her take on fantastical writing in these strange times. If you have time, do watch it. It's available until the end of November, so a few more days I suppose. @Luxi@roddy

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On 11/24/2020 at 9:22 PM, Lu said:

I finally watched this event

 

I was going to ask! I watched it too and agree with you. It was really helpful to understand some aspects of this novel. For me it was not necessarily the meaning but its construction. It's interesting that Yan Ge had published 19 novels by the time she was 21. If I understood right, 'Beasts' was one of them. Searching elsewhere, I found out that she comes from a family of scholars, which makes me think she had classical Chinese training from the cradle,  you can tell by the language in the first chapters.

 

On 11/24/2020 at 9:22 PM, Lu said:

chased by her editor,

 

Yes, and it shows. The novel was actually a serial weekly publication in a youth magazine, and at times the Editor was breathing down her neck demanding the week's chapter to be in his hands by morning. To me that explains why some chapters are rather weak, I thought it was writers' block but now I know it was writing to deadlines. 

 

BTW I'm still reading it, other things come up to interrupt. Plus the fact that I had to force myself to read through chapter 6 and its inane telephone conversations. I guess that was the Editor's fault. Back on track with Chapter 7 although I notice that the language Yan Ge uses is not the same as in the first few chapters (which I was enjoying), but at least the plot has become quite nightmarish again. 

 

@Lu isn't Jeremy Tiang (the translator) lovely? What a beautiful reading! I'm going to buy the translation in support -- he should do an Audible reading.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I just found this!

 

London Chinese Science Fiction Group: special author event with Yan Ge

 

Quote

 

The London Chinese Science Fiction Group will host an online webinar event with Yan Ge to discuss the feminisms, speculative and mythical fictions, and inspirations behind her compelling book, Strange Beasts of China. Like our regular LCSFG monthly sessions, we also invite our audience to an open discussion at the end. 

 

 

Wed, 16 December 2020, 18:00 – 19:00 GMT.

Free!  but requires registration (no personal or financial information asked other than email, and Eventbrite, the Platform, wants to know what you like). 

I especially look forward to the open discussion at the end.

London Chinese Science Fiction Group?

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I was there. I thought i saw a Roddy in the audience, you?

I thought it was a very good event, went quite deep into the novel, and there were very interesting ideas coming out of the analysis. Yan Ge also seemed a lot more at ease and open than in the earlier event, she made a very good contribution. Turns out Beasts was almost an accidentally dystopian novel. 

 

@roddy did you find the link for the 20% discount?

 

 

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Yeah, that was me. Was keeping an eye out for any known names - Angus Stuart (Stewart?) I know from his podcast, and there were a couple of names I've seen around, though not sure where. Yan Ge came across very well, I thought, first time I'd heard her speak. 

 

I've actually already got (but not read!) the book, but here's the link for the discount. 

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  • 3 weeks later...

 I finished reading some weeks ago, the 2nd half was hard work for me, for no other reason that it turned out to be not quite my type of story - I had been rather happy with the first half's subtle creepy horror, but that disappeared for me after Chapter 6. Still, I finished the novel and had a look at Jeremy Tiang's translation, more a skim to see what I'd missed (not as much as I feared 🙃)  than a full read. I liked his translation, his style of writing, and his names for the beasts.

 

Back to Yan Ge, I must say I'm full of admiration for someone as young as her (20, maybe even younger, at the time) to write such an  imaginative novel. Also her courage to write 'in the style of' the 山海经, and she did it well. Her ´beasts´, though, are nothing like the Mountains and Seas' unicorns and jilins and whatnots, they are of a different nature, very much Yan Ge's own, and I'll say no more to avoid spoilers. A few weeks ago I happened to watch Guillermo Del Toro's "The Shape of Water", and was blown over when one of her Sorrowful beasts came out of the tank! But this novel was first published in 2005, at least 10 years before Del Toro's movie.

 

I'm also full of admiration for Yang Ge's skill in constructing the novel.  For instance, the way she, consciously or unconsciously, imbibed the whole story with a dream-like atmosphere, I'm sure everybody can recognise dream-like  features in the narrative.  Another feature I found remarkable, are her juxtaposed reality layers - especially clear in chapter 8? or 9? (sorry, didn't take notes), amazingly skilful. This is a 20 years' old writing in provincial Chengdu.

 

I also noticed faint political sidelines in some chapters, but can't tell whether they were there originally or just appeared to me because, as a laowai, I was sort of looking for them. So, no more.

 

 

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  • 1 month later...

Another online event with Yan Ge and Jeremy Tiang, starts at 13:00, sorry for the short notice.  You can still get a ticket (free).

Online Event Page | Eventbrite

 

The recording will be available after the event, not sure if one needs a ticket for that:

 

Quote

Friday 5th February - 1pm GMT, 8am EST and 9pm China Standard Time

In partnership with the Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing, Tilted Axis Press and Sinoist Books brings you Women Writing China. Featuring Li Juan and Yan Ge alongside their translators Christopher Payne and Jeremy Tiang, we will be discussing their most recently published works and how their experiences as Chinese women writers have influenced and taken shape in text.

Featured books:

Li Juan [trans. Christopher Payne], Distant Sunflower Fields (Sinoist Books). Get it here.

Yan Ge [trans. Jeremy Tiang], Strange Beasts of China (Tilted Axis Press). Get it here.

 

 

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6 hours ago, roddy said:

How was it?

 

Not bad but could have benefitted from a bit more structure, the main topic (women writing China) was lost at times. Zoom is rather chaotic, not the best platform for this type of topic. Still it was nice to have a webinar on Chinese literature and it was made nicer by being in English and in Chinese, jumped from one to the other and back.

 

The sound was rather difficult for my lousy hearing and I missed a lot of Yan Ge's contribution on 'Beasts',  I was hoping to catch up with the post-webinar recording but I either missed it or it hasn't been yet. I can't find a link anywhere. I'll post it here if I find it.

 

 

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22 minutes ago, Luxi said:

Not bad but could have benefitted from a bit more structure, the main topic (women writing China) was lost at times.

I think it was made more complicated by the fact that Li Juan doesn't speak English and thus needed an interpreter, and apparently nobody had been assigned beforehand to do that. It would probably have been good if there had been a bit more of an agenda, with all participants being aware and prepared. I've been at another literary Zoom event, during the first lockdown, with Chen Qiufan, Xia Jia and Han Song, which was more structured and went well, so it is possible on Zoom.

 

But I enjoyed it a lot, it was fun and interesting. Thoughtful literary folk exchanging thoughts with each other, and the audience exchanging some more thoughts in the chat. All the little side roads were interesting, even if they weren't necessarily planned. And Jeremy Tiang has a great reading voice. I also liked the jumping back and forth between Chinese and English. And I love that in our age of lockdowns and Zoom, events like this have 250 people just showing up, from all over the world, where normally it would be five people in a little lecture room at a university.

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I have to get used to the chat feature, I found it rather annoying this time round. Yes. it was an interesting meeting and I look forward to many more of them. I fully agree on Jeremy Tiang's reading voice, keep on hoping he will record Beasts in Audible.

 

Poor Li Juan, she did look a bit lost. Her presentation was good, even with sound problems and rather out of topic. I have now added Li Juan to my towering 'To read' list, just read a sample of 'Sunflowers' and it looks interesting and not too difficult to read.

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  • 8 months later...
On 10/14/2020 at 9:50 PM, Lu said:

榆叶梅 yúyèméi, a kind of flowering tree (Prunus triloba)

A lifetime ago me and my girlfriend were out admiring what we thought were peach blossoms on PKU campus, when an old lady nearby kindly told us, with a thick accent befitting a professor emeritus, "This is yí-mé." We dared not ask further. We giggled and hastily fled the scene. Now to think about it, that must be 榆叶梅.

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OK, finished.

And now I know why Lu posted that toothy chair picture!

 

"我" turned out to be not as I thought a typical unreliable narrator. She's just as uninformed as the reader, and gradually discovering who she is as she continues to write stories about these beasts. (We know the narrator is a she about halfway through the first chapter when she's escorted out of 乐雨's house by a security guard.)

 

What makes this book captivating, I think, is that each chapter is constructed in such a clever way that any information you get at the beginning is always misleading. And the key to understanding the twist lies in the last page, written in classical or semi-classical Chinese, in different font and accompanied by illustration (at least in my 中信出版社 edition).

 

Fantasy is often but a vehicle for social commentary. I find the government auction of interspecies marriage permit and the casual mention of 板蓝根 the Chinese panacea quite amusing. And that's just 5 pages in.

 

The whole book, as someone else commented, gives off a dreamy atmosphere. But in later chapters the tone becomes more light-hearted and funny at times. The bantering between the narrator and 钟亮 made me chuckle.

 

The most challenging part to me as a native speaker is parsing out the direct speech - there's no quotation marks anywhere!

 

All in all it was a good read, but - although I didn't realize it while reading online, l do feel it's a bit lightweight and unpolished for a physical book.

 

I'll have to stop here. Next I'm going to post some spoilers for each chapter, which, let's hope, may answer some of the questions by previous posters as well as future readers.

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