“The Deluge” by Bi Feiyu, translated by Eric Abrahamsen
Dylan Levi King, 7/9/17
While the importance of the short story has faded in English-language literature, there is still a relatively large readership in China and writers that put great emphasis on the form. Bi Feiyu is one the best.
I’ve known more than a few girls like “The Deluge”’s Yao Zihan, young women raised in work unit dormitories, moved to a tidy suburb after the factory and its land was sold off, propelled through English camps and guzheng lessons by their parents but also by something else– a sense of shame, maybe? Yao Zihan is keenly aware of her own social standing, “her parents’ taste, and vision,” the fact that her parents occupy a flat in the university courtyard only because her father works as a plumber at the school. Her parents move up in the world but Yao Zihan stalls, finding out what is truly important to her but too late.
The story’s translator, Eric Abrahamsen does something that I have found to be difficult, balancing the opacity of the translation, so that the language feels natural and familiar but also lets the reader appreciate the language of the original. Abrahamsen maintains the authenticity of Dayao’s voice, which is particularly important in a work that hinges on therelationship between an educated American woman and Yao Zihan and her father.
Hsiu-Chih (Lilian) Sheu, 6/9/17
“The Deluge” depicts a typical parent-child relation in modern Chinese society: How parents make their best effort to push their children to succeed, but end up alienating them. The protagonist, Dayao, has the ideal teenager daughter (Yao Zhihan) any parents would dream of. She is talented in every aspect (maths, dance, English…), and devoted to her study and extracurricular classes. Dayao and his wife do their best to make sure their daughter has all the training possible to succeed. Inspired by English completion shows seen on TV, Dayao finds an American tutor for his daughter in the hope that she will bring glory to the family by winning such a competition. At the end of the first English lesson, a dumpling meal is served in the name of Chinese hospitality, but with the hidden purpose of extra free English tuition for the daughter. When the American tutor turns the table on Dayao insisting they should all speak Chinese in the name of American politeness, Dayao feels like a complete loser as he is not only given a free meal but also a free Chinese lesson. Following the dumpling dinner, the voice of Yao Zihan emerges, venting her angry feeling towards her parents and chronicling her relationship with a male student and the American tutor. She has grown out of the box her parents had prepared for her, but will they let her leave their box of love? The story is described in a lively language, full of creative metaphor and humour. The translation has vividly caught the spirit and the voice of the characters.
Catherine Shipley, 5/9/17
Bi Feiyu immediately triggers the reader’s curiosity and sustains it throughout the story. He is able to recount a very common occurrence – a foreigner being asked by a Chinese parent to teach their child English – in a humorous and intriguing way. Any native English speaker who has ever tried practising a second language is likely to enjoy the author’s description of both parties’ attempts to dominate the conversation. Behind the amusing anecdotes, however, there is serious, even sad, undertone to the story. Yao Zihan faces the pressures shared by many single children in China, most of which come from her parents who, in turn, feel the strain of wanting their child to succeed in a competitive environment. The author leaves us wondering whether there may be a price to pay for such success…
I recommend this story to anyone who has an interest in modern Chinese society, particularly to those who have spent time in China. Although the actions carried out by the protagonists may not be surprising, the reader is given a moving insight into what motivates them to behave in such a way.