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January 2019: Alat Asem 阿拉提·阿斯木

A Uyghur born in 1958 in Keriya, Xinjiang, Alat Asem is currently vice-chair of the Xinjiang Writers Association. He writes in both Chinese and Uyghur and has published eleven novels and seven collections of shorter works.

He has won several literary prizes, including the 2004 Tian Shan Award for Arts and Letters for his novel Raw Milk Drinkers (喝生奶的人们), published in 蝴蝶时代 (Butterfly Era), and the Jun Ma Literature Prize for his 2013 novel 时间悄悄的嘴脸, translated into English in 2018 as Confessions of a Jade Lord, by Bruce Humes and Jun Liu.

Bio from Paper Republic

This month's story - 'Sidik Golden MobOff' (斯迪克金子关机) - was translated by Bruce Humes and first published in English in issue 14 of  Peregrine, the English language companion to Chutzpah! magazine, in June 2013, edited by Ou Ning and Austin Woerner. You can read it both in Chinese and in English translation.

There's an interesting piece by Bruce here, looking at Alat Asem and other bilingual writers in China. (Bruce's blog is a fantastic resource for information on non-Han languages and fiction in China).

Here's a synopsis of Confessions of a Jade Lord:

To get his greedy hands on nine hefty chunks of priceless creamy white, “mutton-fat” jade, Eysa and his gang administer a merciless beating to Xali, a fellow trader. Fearing arrest, Eysa flees Xinjiang for Shanghai where a plastic surgeon fits him with a state-of-the-art mask that allows him to return home, initially undetected even by his kin. But as his feud with Xali deepens — it emerges Xali was only maimed, not killed — Eysa gradually realizes the futility of attempting to amass a fortune under Time’s mute gaze.

Decades of double-digit growth have spawned a generation of nouveau riche in the booming 21st-century metropolises of Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, spurring desire for fine jade, a traditional badge of wealth, and kick starting a modern-day “jade rush.” But supply is jealously guarded by the Turkic-speaking, Muslim Uyghur whose homeland — Xinjiang in China’s far northwest, a land of oases and massive desert once crisscrossed by camel caravans — remains the ultimate source for milk-white suet jade.

Confessions of a Jade Lord immerses us in an underworld peopled by gangsters with their penchant for firewater-fueled storytelling and philosophical reverie, appetite for Uyghur delicacies such as laghman hand-pulled noodles and whole roasted lamb, fierce loyalty to family and aghines, and a willingness to unsheathe their daggers when honor, brotherhood or jade require.

Alat Asem’s fiction is a Uyghur universe where Han Chinese rarely figure. His hallmarks are serial womanizers — real hanzi who piss standing, not squatting — monikers that belittle, and a hybrid lingo with an odd but appealing Central Asian flavor.

You can read an excerpt from the novel on Bruce's website, where you can also find more links to articles about the author and his work.

There's a review by Matt Hanson, for the Turkish newspaper The Daily Sabah here.

And Confessions of a Jade Lord is one of the books on our Reading Chinese Book Review Network.

Here's what one of our reviewers - Cuilin Sang - has to say:

Confessions of a Jade Lord is a story about time. In fact, it is obsessed with time. Its original Chinese title, if literally translated, would be something like “The Secret Face of Time” (时间悄悄的嘴脸).
Blending aphorism, Uyghur idioms, verbalized adjectives and so many other ingredients, Alat Asem tells a contemporary story in an ancient and timeless voice... It’s refreshing and invigorating to see that Chinese language, and, for that matter, English language, have the capacity to collaborate with a literary expression that bears such remarkable and distinctive marks of Uyghur culture. The current English title of the book brings into relief its predominant feature: it is a folkloric, spiritual adventure, a bildungsroman of a middle-aged, religious man in the business of jade trade.