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August 2020: Can Xue 残雪

Can Xue is the pseudonym of the renowned avant-garde author Deng Xiaohua. Her previous works include Five Spice Street, Vertical Motion, The Last Lover, Frontier, and Love in the New Millennium.

The Last Lover, translated by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen (Yale University Press, 2014) was voted The Independent's Book of the Year 2014, was longlisted for The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2015, and won the Best Translated Book Award 2015. Her novel Love in the New Millennium, also translated by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen, was longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2019. A new collection of her stories, I Live in the Slums, has just been published by Yale University Press, translated by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping. (Karen Gernant is professor emerita of Chinese history at Southern Oregon University. Chen Zeping is professor of Chinese linguistics at Fujian Normal University, Fuzhou.)

With six novels, fifty novellas, 120 short stories, and six works of literary criticism and commentary—only a fraction of which have been translated in English—as well as a 2015 BTBA Award in 2015, Can Xue should be more well-known, greatest living writer that she is.  But while she might not be a household name, she is no secret in the literary world either. 

Porochista Khakpour, 'The Performance of Fiction: An Interview with Can Xue', Words Without Borders

This month we're delighted to feature the story 'Our Human Neighbors', translated by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping, which was first published in Conjunctions in 2017, and now in the collection I Live in the Slums, from Yale University Press. You can read the story both in English translation and in Chinese.

I’m a middle-aged male magpie who lives in the suburbs. Some tall poplars stand next to the primary school, and my home is set up in one of them. Originally my parents, brothers, and sisters, as well as my grandparents, lived here, but now they’ve all disappeared.

As Farah Abdessamad notes in her review of the collection in the Asian Review of Books, 'There is a troubling symmetry between the animal and human short stories. Can Xue obsessively questions how animals live in the slums, as well as what their life can teach humans.'

To find out more about Can Xue and her work, MIT has a website dedicated to her, where you can find a collection of interviews and articles.

A perceptive foreign reader pointed out that all of the landscapes depicted in my stories are landscapes of the creative process itself. Readers like this one undoubtedly have creative potential. And this implies that reading my fiction requires a certain creativity. This particular way of reading has to be more than just gazing at the accepted meanings of the text on a literal level, because you are reading messages sent out by the soul, and your reading is awakening your soul into communication with the author’s. Contact between souls is possible; that is my conviction.

Can Xue, 'A Short Piece on Experimental Fiction', Bomb magazine