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November 2021: Su Tong 苏童

Su Tong was born in Suzhou, East China in 1963. He rose to international acclaim after his book Wives and Concubines was adapted into the BAFTA-winning film Raise the Red Lantern by director Zhang Yimou. His novel The Boat to Redemption won the Man Asia Literature Prize in 2009, and in 2015 he was joint winner of the prestigious Mao Dun Literature Prize for Shadow of the Hunter.

Su Tong is a prolific and unconventional writer whose work explores the darker side of human nature. Having grown up in the Cultural Revolution, Su Tong’s novels and short stories depict everyday life in 20th century China with a dark twist. In addition to his many striking novels, he has also written hundreds of short stories, many of which have been translated into French and English. He currently lives in Nanjing.

Bio from Sinoist Books

We're very happy to feature Su Tong on our Book Club this month, to coincide with the publication of Open Air Cinema (露天电影) by Sinoist Books, translated by (in order of appearance) Olivia Milburn, James Trapp, Nicky Harman and Haiwang Yuan. This book is a collection of sanwen 散文, a traditional style of prose micro-essay. It documents a changing, turbulent nation, offering a peek behind the curtain into the mind of one of contemporary China's most influential writers.

The essay we feature here is in fact titled 'Why Can't I Write Essays?', and sees Su Tong grappling with the weight of the Chinese essay-writing tradition. "A writer like me wrings my hands in frustration, at a loss what to do."

You can read the original Chinese here, and the English translation, by Haiwang Yuan, here.

We're also really delighted to be co-hosting a launch event for Open Air Cinema with Sinoist Books, featuring Su Tong himself, two of the translators of the book - Nicky Harman and James Trapp - and Professor Ji Jin, from Suzhou University, who has written extensively on Su Tong's work. The event takes place at 2pm on Wednesday November 10th, and you can register (free) on Eventbrite here.

And if you're wanting to explore other work by Su Tong, we feature his novel Shadow of the Hunter (translated by James Trapp) on our Book Review Network, and you can read what some of our reviewers think here.

Shadow of the Hunter is slippery to define. What sounds from the title and blurb like a dark moral tale filled with rope fetish and reprobate youth culture, reads in turn as a gently meandering saga, a farcical comedy, and a brutal telling of the realities of life for many who are born with limited hopes and means. - Lorna Amor