I Live in the Slums

. Yale Univ. (Margellos World Republic of Letters). May 2020. 334p. from Chinese by Karen Gernant & Chen Zeping. ISBN 9780300247435. $26. SHORT STORIES.
An elderly bachelor cicada identifies with a spider, emblem of death. A magpie puzzles over the school gardener, who kills or drives off its family and is finally seen rather gleefully raking over the graves after multiple deaths in a local fire. A ratlike creature that seemingly recalls a cold countryside but insists "I live in the slums. I was born here" cannot understand the intentions of its host family—are they offering aid or intent on murder?—yet perseveres, an upbeat, gentle soul. A man trying to find the vanished swamp once darkly beckoning at the heart of his city undertakes a mysterious journey, with people seemingly waiting to help at every turn (and spiritual piglets offering a special connection—animals figure largely here). Such is the eerie, unpredictable, cracked and crazy world purveyed in this new story collection from leading Chinese experimentalist Can Xue, whose trenchant undertones impart a distinct unease.
VERDICT Sheer reading pleasure for sophisticated readers and a worthy starting point for initiates.


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