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Sept/October 2023: Wen Zhen 文珍

Born in 1982, Wen Zhen writes fiction, essays, and poetry. She studied for a master’s degree at the Chinese literature department of Peking University and has published short stories in literary journals including People’s Literature and Dangdai. Wen Zhen has published two fiction collections, Eleven Flavours of Love (which includes the novella for which she received a Lao She Literature Prize in 2014) and The Last Night We Were Together, and currently works as an editor at People’s Literature Publishing House. A selection of her poetry was published in the Summer 2016 issue of Pathlight.

- Bio from Comma Press

We're very happy to feature her short story 'Night Train'《夜车》on our Book Club this month, translated by Dave Haysom.

Taking the night train always feels like travelling through the dreams of strangers: each pulse of distant amber light reflected in the window is a ripple we have creased into the stillness of their lives. We went to brush our teeth, wash our faces and use the toilet before the lights were switched off for the night, and then lay in our bunks, top to tail and stiff as fish in a freezer. Listening to the rumble of carriage against rail, eyes closed to the projections flitting past the window. 

The story is taken from a full collection of seven short stories, also translated by Dave Haysom, Nothing but the Nowfrom Bridge 21 Publications, first published in Chinese as Seven《柒》in 2017. You can read it in the original Chinese, and in Dave's English translation.

If you'd like to find out more about the translation process, there's a fascinating blog on Dave's website, dealing with the challenges of translating the kind of language that many of the characters in the collection have to deal with.

Many of these stories focus on female protagonists whose personal and professional agency is constrained by men — husbands, colleagues, bosses — who seek to limit their identity to reductive gendered roles. One of the challenges I encountered when translating the book into English was finding a suitable register for the sexist language her characters frequently have to endure. 

We're also delighted that Wen Zhen will be joining us in Leeds on Monday October 16th, as part of the launch of The Book of Beijingthe latest in Comma Press's 'Reading the City' series. Her story in the collection is 'Date at the Art Gallery', translated by Jack Hargreaves, who'll also be joining us in Leeds to chair the event.

As editor Bingbing Shi writes in the introduction to the book, 'Beyond these historical journeys, this book also offers a spatial map of contemporary Beijing. Navigating these spaces is not just a matter of visiting the tourist attractions... Rather, it is about engaging with something far more exciting: a modern, global city intertwined with its own rich traditions.'

The event is free to attend, but please book your place on our Eventbrite page.