“The Winter of 2009“, by Li Juan, translated by Lucy Johnston
Roseanna Sonnenberg, 6/10/21
Many of Li Juan’s works are based on her personal experiences. This piece tells us about an extremely tough winter, that lasted five months. It shows how resilient and resourceful the writer was: what she ate and what she did – within a small, isolated world: the four walls of her house and garden.
I liked the piece because firstly, it is set within a context that is understandable. We may have experienced an incident of extreme weather or heard about it on the news too. However, this story also reveals hardships beyond this comprehension – imagine eating a spindle, for example. This was so startling, I had to read the sentence twice to make sure I’d understood it right.
Secondly, the question of where the writer’s stepfather had buried the turnips provided the piece with a sense of mystery and a hope that they would be found. It also acted as a thread for the story – the turnips were there at the beginning, middle and end. Plus, what seemed so important during the winter (finding the turnips) became something of an afterthought once the hard times had ended and life had moved on. Again, this too seems relatable: what seems so intensely important today is but a footnote tomorrow.
I would recommend the piece because it provides the reader with a window into history. Before I read it, I knew nothing about the Winter of 2009. The writer’s memories inspired me to delve further into the time so I could learn more about it: the geography and the wider historical context of the event.
Plus it is a human story, told with a sense of humour in difficult times – for example, how the stepdaughter communicated with her stepfather once he’d had a stroke; and how her mother wasn’t pleased at her daughter’s efforts to preserve the motorbike.
Overall, the piece allows us to observe, understand and learn about a really difficult time – and come out the other side of it. Comprehensible, historical, geographical and human. All rolled into one.