“Wedding in Autumn” by Shih Chiung-Yu, translated by Darryl Sterk
Barry Howard, 22/8/17
We all want to be loved, but sometimes our yearnings for intimacy have far-reaching consequences.
A young man (Chung) attends the wedding of a woman (Ju) he used to know. She’s changed a lot since they last met; a lot more than he could have imagined.
Reading this short story brought to mind Cheng Ch’ing-wen’s (鄭清文) Three-Legged Horse《三腳馬》 (a collection of short stories, also from Taiwan). Tensions between men and women are shared themes. There is also a similar, matter of fact, explicitness in the writing. Moreover, both authors show insights into the heavy burden of obligations and traditions present in Chinese societies.
We learn of Ju primarily through Chung’s narration. Chung’s naivety brings humour and a perspective of innocence to the tale. Without that innocence, we might jump to the same conclusions as everyone else and miss what lies beneath. Why are we quick to judge and slow to show compassion? When people are mistreated (exploited, even), what is the long-term effect on the person and society beyond? What private sufferings lie behind public appearances?
My only criticism is not with the story, but sections of the translation. The translator (Darryl Sterk, a Canadian academic) has chosen to represent some colloquial exchanges by using Southern US English drawls and swearing. The feeling is that stereotyping has been used to portray characters, which is a distracting irony considering the story’s underlying message about judging others.
Like Ju, this tale has much greater depth than appearances might suggest. Some is revealed, though a lot is left to ponder. Very much recommended, especially as so much is shown with such brevity.