Vertical Motion by Can Xue
Karen Gernant & Chen Zeping, tr. Rochester, New York. Open Letter. 2011. ISBN 9781934824375
In just a few short years, Open Letter Books, based out of the University of Rochester, has quite impressively staked a claim of literary territory. Not unlike New Directions, Open Letter has made its reputation by finding and publishing some of the best foreign-language writers in the world. Can Xue, the pseudonym of Deng Xiaohua, is the latest writer to contribute to Open Letter's quick ascension.
In her collection Vertical Motion, Can Xue establishes a trippy and surreal world: apartments float high in the air, and large owls and men with lacquer-black skin haunt troubled people. There's a common thread between Can Xue and Japanese writer Haruki Murakami in that both writers use the surreal to expound the oddness of human experiences; but where Murakami's is a kind of hipster existentialism, Can Xue roots her existentialism in folklore. In many ways, Can Xue's place is between Isaac Bashevis Singer and Franz Kafka.
For instance, in "Red Leaves," a story about death and memory, an old man wanders the hallways of a hospital with an old friend, searching for the source of a meowing sound that's been pestering him. The old man's contemplation of whether a leaf turns red from the stalk out or gradually throughout the entire leaf becomes a larger metaphor for mortality. In "An Affectionate Companion's Jottings," a dark and mysterious visitor calls upon a man afflicted with symptoms of manic depression. The lacquer-dark stranger is a symbol for the manic-depressive's melancholia. In "Cotton Candy," a young child becomes obsessed with an old woman's technique for spinning cotton candy, often seeing her at her candy machine when no one else can see her. For Can Xue, reality seems to be unnecessary: it's in fantasy that truth is revealed.
A brief note must be made about the translation. While, for the most part, the translation is solid, there are a few moments where occasional cliché slips through—for example, "come hell or high water" or "when all is said and done." Because the colloquialisms are odd against the language, slipups like these tend to break the dreamlike trance that the author is trying to create.
Minor flaws aside, however, Can Xue's Vertical Motion enhances the reputation that Open Letter has been deservedly earning.
Norwich, United Kingdom
A special section devoted to International Literary Journalism headlines the March 2012 issue of WLT, including a fascinating interview with Anthony Shadid.
Table of Contents
International Literary Journalism
- ESSAY: "International Literary Journalism in Three Dimensions," Norman Sims
- INTERVIEW: "Impartiality Has Nothing to Do with Neutrality: A Conversation with Ervin Hladnik Milharčič," Leonora Flis
- ESSAY: "The Order of the Blind Camel," Maria Golia
- ESSAY: "Female Narrative Journalism in Contemporary Ukraine," Mariya Tytarenko
- INTERVIEW: "Reclaiming What Was Lost: A Conversation with Anthony Shadid," Matt Carney
- ESSAY: "Telling Stories in Contemporary Spain: A Survey of Women Writing Literary Journalism," Novia Pagone
- ARTICLE: "In Search of a Man for Friendship and Possibly More," Empar Moliner
- ARTICLE: "The Pest," Rosa Montero
- ESSAY: "Searching for Truth: Arnon Grunberg's Literary Journalism," Agnes Andeweg
- ESSAY: "Buenos Aires, the Suburbs, and the Pampas," Pablo Calvi
- ESSAY: "Negotiating Nationhood through the Ethnography of “Literary Series” in Nigerian National Newspapers," James Tar Tsaaior
- "Marathons of Memory, Marathons of Life," Roger Robinson
- "Dark Side of the Manga: Tezuka Osamu's Dark Period," Rob Vollmar
- "Not Their Masters' Voice: Latin American Nonfiction," Will H. Corral
- "Filling the Unforgiving Minute: The Literature of Running," Roger Robinson
- Two Poems, Angélica Freitas
- Three Poems, Jacek Gutorow
IN EVERY ISSUE
- LETTERS/EDITOR'S CHOICE
- WHAT TO READ NOW: Greece
- CITY PROFILE: Havana, Cuba
- INTERNATIONAL CRIME & MYSTERY: "Credibility and Popularity in the Historical Mystery," J. Madison Davis
- OUTPOST: Paris, France