Writing Chinese

‘A Perfect Crime’: Author A Yi in Leeds

A Yi

For our final author event of this year, A Yi 阿乙 joined us at the university, to discuss his work and his novella A Perfect Crime, translated into English by Anna Holmwood. We’re very grateful to his publishers, Oneworld, for arranging the visit, and to English PEN, who awarded the book a translation grant.

In A Perfect Crime, a young man commits a horrific crime and goes on the run. Narrated by the murderer himself, the book pulls the reader inexorably along through the meticulous planning of the crime, to its bloody climax, and the cat-and-mouse pursuit by the police.

Having served as a police office for five years, A Yi has first hand experience of the processes and problems of the legal system in China. He has also, as he discussed with us, had experience of the kind of loneliness and boredom that plague his protagonist. Whilst avowedly apolitical in his writing, A Yi is nonetheless very much interested in the social and psychological issues facing China today. In his aimless protagonist he paints a portrait of a dislocated, hopeless youth, moving through an empty and uncaring society.

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Our audience was interested to hear his opinions on writing and on crime, and how his own experiences have fuelled his fiction. He spoke of how hard he found writing the scene of the crime itself, and the feeling of oppression it brought. Spending so much time inside the head of such a troubled character was exhausting and difficult, and the book is undoubtedly disturbing for the reader. Yet it is also brilliantly written and translated; a taut page-turner that defies you to look away, and lingers long after the final page.

We’d like to thank our interpreter Michelle Deeter, and Blackwells’ Books, for their contributions to the event.

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