Wednesday, 6 May 2020

BOOK REVIEW: The Book Of Shanghai - various authors

Title: The Book Of Shanghai
Authors: Wang Anyi, Chen Donyan, Xia Shang, Teng Xiaolan, Shen Dacheng, Wang Zhonhei, Fu Yuehui, Xiao Bai, Cai Jun, Chen Quijan.
Publisher: Comma Press

Shanghai is China's largest, richest, and most multi-cultural and diverse city. Once disowned by China, but now most certainly under their governing and authority, Shanghai has seemingly been allowed to expand and diversify into Asia's number one metropolis, a sprawling urban area of Western culture and skyscrapers piitted against older and much more traditional Chinese districts.

This book, a collection of 10 contemporary short stories from some of China's leading authors, aims to bring an essense of, an air of modern Shanghai through their stories to the reader, who, like myself, has never been within a few thousand miles of the city.

The stories themselves are interesting and diverse, although as well as Shanghai, there is also a thread which seems to connect all ten of these stories. That is a sense of loss, and a sense of trying to connect or reconnect to that loss. A sense of trying to hold on, to a love, a smell, an object, a memory, a letter, be it what it will, all the stories - some are realistic, some more fantastic and allegorical - have this thread in common too. 

All ten stories have been translated by different people too, which makes for an uneven read. There is a mix throughout the book between British and American English usage and phraseology, even within the same story on one occasion; and one translator has given their story a very middle-of-the-road English so that it be understandable to all readers - shall we say a kind of 'Daily Mail' English - except for one word which jumped right up at me, not because the word is particularly archaic or unused (although I doubt many readers understanding it without a dictionary), but because it was out of place in context with the rest of the language of the story. The word in question being lubricious.

My personal lingusitic discomforts aside though, the stories are varied, interesting, and do offer the casual reader some insight into this large and foreign city. Stories range from closing in on a small, narrow street, a fruit seller, and a memory. A rather intimate and claustrophobic tale of a Shanghai that has become lost in the vastness of modernisation and growth, to the imagery and fantasy of the flooding river engulfing his city whilst he floats around, naked in his bathtub trying to meet a lady he doesn't know on the Suzhou river bridge. The collection offers suspense, thriller, romance, drama , science-fiction, and if one of the stories doesn't really grab you.. there's nine more that will.

My absolute favourite in the collection was Xia Shang's 'Bengal Tiger'. The story tells of two feuding families, employees of the zoo, and how the young boy from one family contrives to find a solution their continual warring. Engaging storytelling making me want more!

Reviewer - Chris Benchley
on - 5/5/20

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