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May 2019: Lu Yao 路遥

Lu Yao was born Wang Weiguo 王卫国 in 1949, in Qingjian County, Shaanxi Province, and died in 1992 at the age of 42. Growing up in a poor family, he began writing at Yan'an University, and later worked as a magazine editor. He drew inspiration from his own life for his stories, focusing in particular on the experiences of young people in his native Shanbei. His novella Life 人生 was published in 1982, and made into a film in 1984, making him a household name in China. His novel Ordinary World 平凡的世界 won the Mao Dun Literary Prize in 1991, and was turned into a television series in 2015. Although he only published two novels, their influence established him as a widely read and respected figure in Chinese fiction. Life has recently been translated into English by Chloe Estep, and published by Amazon Crossing.

For this month's book club we have Lu Yao's story 'Elder Sister' 姐姐, written in 1981 and translated into English by Zhang Min. It was first published in English in Old Land, New Tales: 20 Short Stories by Writers of the Shaanxi Region in China, edited by Chen Zhongshi and Jia Pingwa.

You can find out more about the TV adaptation of Ordinary World here, in an article which also discusses Lu's own life, and how it influenced his work.

Although Lu Yao is extremely well known in China, Life is the first of his longer works to be published in English. We will be featuring Life as part of our Book Review Network, so look out for reviews to come soon!

In this first-ever translation (by Chloe Estep) of Lu Yao’s Life, we meet Gao Jialin, a stubborn, idealistic, and ambitious young man from a small country village whose life is upended when corrupt local politics cost him his beloved job as a schoolteacher, prompting him to reject rural life and try to make it in the big city. Against the vivid, gritty backdrop of 1980s China, Lu Yao traces the proud and passionate Gao Jialin’s difficult path to professional, romantic, and personal fulfillment—or at least hard-won acceptance.

With the emotional acuity and narrative mastery that secured his reputation as one of China’s great novelists, Lu Yao paints a vivid, emotional, and unsparing portrait of contemporary Chinese life, seen through the eyes of a working-class man who refuses to be broken.

From Amazon Crossing