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A Dictionary of Maqiaoby Han Shaogong
Synopses & Reviews
One of the most-talked about works of fiction to emerge from China in recent years, this novel about an urban youth displaced to a small village in rural China during the Cultural Revolution is a fictionalized portrait of the authors own experience as a young man. Han Shaogong was one of millions of students relocated from cities and towns to live and work alongside peasant farmers in an effort to create a classless society. Translated into English for the first time, Hans novel is an exciting experiment in form -structured as a dictionary of the Maqiao dialect -through which he seeks to understand and translate the local life and customs of his strange new home.
Han encounters an upside-down world among the people of Maqiao: a con man dupes his neighbors into thinking that he has found the fountain of youth by convincing them that his father is in fact his son; to be scientific is to be lazy; time and relationships are understood using the language of food and its preparation; and to die young is considered sweet, while the aged reckon their lives to be cheap.
As entries build one upon another, Han meditates on the ability of a waidi ren (outsider) to represent the ways of life of another community. In this light, the Communist effort to control the language and history of a people whose words and past are bound together in ineluctably local ways emerges as an often comical, sometimes tragic exercise in miscommunication.
Named one of the Top 100 Works of Twentieth-Century Chinese Fiction by Yazhou Zhoukan (Asia Weekly)
winner -Shanghai Literary Prize
winner -Best Novel in Taiwan, China Times Prize
From the daring imagination of one of Chinas greatest living novelists comes a work of startling power and originality-the story of a young man “displaced” to a small village in rural China during the 1960s. Told in the format of a dictionary, with a series of vignettes disguised as entries, A Dictionary of Maqiao is a novel of bold invention-and a fascinating, comic, deeply moving journey through the dark heart of the Cultural Revolution.
Entries trace the wisdom and absurdities of Maqiao: the petty squabbles, family grudges, poverty, infidelities, fantasies, lunatics, bullies, superstitions, and especially the odd logic in their use of language-where the word for “beginning” is the same as the word for “end”; “little big brother” means older sister; to be “scientific” means to be lazy; and “streetsickness” is a disease afflicting villagers visiting urban areas. Filled with colorful characters-from a weeping ox to a man so poisonous that snakes die when they bite him-A Dictionary of Maqiao is both an important work of Chinese literature and a probing inquiry into the extraordinary power of language.
About the Author
Han Shaogong is an award-winning novelist, essayist, and translator. He is also the former editor of the magazines Hainan Review and Frontiers and is the vice-chairman of the Hainan Writer's Association.
Julia Lovell is a translator of modern Chinese literature and a research fellow at Queen's College, Cambridge.
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