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January/ February 2024: Fiona Sze-Lorrain

Fiona Sze-Lorrain is a writer, poet, translator, musician, and editor. She writes and translates in English, French, Chinese, and occasionally Spanish. She also works with Italian and Japanese. Her work includes a novel in stories, Dear Chrysanthemums (Scribner, 2023), five poetry collections, most recently Rain in Plural (Princeton, 2020) and The Ruined Elegance (Princeton, 2016), fifteen books of translation, and three coedited anthologies of international literature. A finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Best Translated Book Award, and the Derek Walcott Poetry Prize among other honors, she is longlisted for the 2024 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. A 2019–20 Abigail R. Cohen Fellow at the Columbia Institute for Ideas and Imagination and the inaugural writer-in-residence at the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires, she lives in Paris where she serves as an editor at Vif Éditions. As a zheng harpist, she has performed widely in Europe, Asia, and the U.S. She is also involved in mediation, arbitration, and negotiation. (Bio from the Society of Authors, UK)

We're delighted that Fiona will be joining us in February to discuss her book Dear Chrysanthemums (see our Event page), and that we're able to feature an extract for our bookclub here.

A startling and vivid debut novel in stories from acclaimed poet and translator Fiona Sze-Lorrain featuring deeply compelling Asian women who reckon with the past, violence, and exile—set in Shanghai, Beijing, Singapore, Paris, and New York.

“Cooking for Madame Chiang,” 1946: Two cooks work for Madame Chiang Kai-shek and prepare a foreign dish craved by their mistress, which becomes a political weapon and leads to their tragic end. “Death at the Wukang Mansion,” 1966: Punished for her extramarital affair, a dancer is transferred to Shanghai during the Cultural Revolution and assigned to an ominous apartment in a building whose other residents often depart in coffins. “The White Piano,” 1996: A budding pianist from New York City settles down in Paris and is assaulted when a mysterious piano arrives from Singapore. “The Invisible Window,” 2016: After their exile following the Tiananmen Square massacre, three women gather in a French cathedral to renew their friendship and reunite in their grief and faith.

Evocative, vivid, disturbing, and written with a masterly ear for language, Dear Chrysanthemums renders a devastating portrait of diasporic life and inhumanity, as well as a tender web of shared memory, artistic expression, and love.

This month we're also featuring 'Not Meant as Poems', from Fiona's collection Rain in Plural (Princeton University Press, 2020). This was Fiona's fourth collection of poetry, and in it she "addresses both private narratives and the overexposed discourse of the polis, using silence and montage, lyric and antilyric, to envision what she calls 'creating between liberties'."
As a review by Peter Gordon in The Asian Review of Books puts it, "Sze-Lorrain seems at home and a visitor everywhere, connecting dots across cultures and continents, dipping into languages and cuisines. If there is a globalized future for English-language literature, this is perhaps an early glance at it."
Dear Chrysanthemums will also be featured on our Book Review network, so check back for our reviewers' thoughts!