Like many Chinese writers of his generation, Su Wei spent his teenage years being “re-educated” through farm labor in the countryside, working for ten years on a rubber plantation in the mountains of tropical Hainan Island. He is known for his nonfiction essays as well as for his highly imaginative novels, which are seen as unique in their treatment of the Cultural Revolution. He left China in 1989, and since 1997 he has taught Chinese language and literature at Yale University. The Invisible Valley, translated by Austin Woerner, and published by Small Beer Press, is his first book to be translated into English.
Bio from Small Beer Press
For this month’s book club, we’re grateful to Small Beer Press for giving us permission to publish this excerpt from Su Wei’s novel The Invisible Valley 迷谷, translated by Austin Woerner and released on April 3rd 2018. The excerpt was also published on the Samovar Magazine blog in March, and is from Chapter 3 of the novel.
The Invisible Valley is set in the Cultural Revolution, and tells the story of a teenager working in a remote mountain encampment who stumbles upon an ambiguous utopia.
“Su Wei’s remarkable novel The Invisible Valley has drawn praise in Chinese literary circles both inside and outside China. Su Wei belongs to the generation of Chinese writers who ‘went down to the countryside’ at the behest of Chairman Mao in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and his novel was inspired by his personal experience in the wild, semi-tropical hills of Hainan Island in China’s far south. The power of this natural background—typhoons, jungles, giant snakes, pungent odors, and more—pervades the work and melds into the vivid human characters that populate it.”
— Perry Link, Emeritus Professor of Chinese, Princeton University
You can find out more on the Small Beer Press website, and read a previous excerpt here.
The novel is translated by Austin Woerner, who has also translated the poetry of Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河 and worked as the English translation editor of the literary magazine Chutzpah!, which ran from 2011-2014, edited by Ou Ning 欧宁 (see our blog post on our first Book Review Network residential weekend, where Ou Ning discussed the magazine and its work). Austin’s website features more information about his translations and his work with Su Wei. He’s also active on Twitter and Instagram, and there’s an interesting short video here on how his classes with Professor Su got him started on translating The Invisible Valley. We’re also delighted that he took the time to answer some questions for our ‘Talking Translation’ blog series. Read the interview here (and find out about his ‘Vulcan Mind Meld’ approach to translation!).
The Invisible Valley will be reviewed by members of our Book Review Network, so keep an eye on our Reviews page!