Two novels with Asian connections

01 Jun

John Baker, I am happy to say, is on my blogroll and I am on his. He has been putting some good ideas for writers on his blog lately. For example:

When I was young I read somewhere — don’t remember who said it any more — that if you want to be a writer, you should write. You should sit down and write for ten years and at the end of that time you’ll be a writer.

So that’s what I did. That was my way. I thought it was good advice. I still believe it to be good advice. But these days, if I say that to someone, I have to qualify it by stressing that one should also read. Read, read, read…

Which is what Australian poet Bruce Beaver said years ago to the young writers in Neos.

I have just read John’s novel The Chinese Girl (2000). Set in the northern English city of Hull, the novel is really strong on character, relationships and creating a noir atmosphere, with more than one tribute to Dashiell Hammett. Well worth reading.

I knew of Ouyang Yu ten years ago, but I met him just last year, just before he went to take up an appointment at Wuhan University. My current read is his The Eastern Slope Chronicle (2002), a copy of which I found in the local bargain bookshop.

In The Eastern Slope Chronicle, Ouyang Yu takes the reader on an epic journey to a famous literary town in inland China with his protagonist, Australian-Chinese poet, Dao Zhuang in search of a new life, where Dao revisits his past in Cultural Revolution in the 1970s and events in the lead up to the June 4th Massacre in 1989 while working on the English translation of his Chinese novel written during the Massacre as well as doing a research for an Australia-based company. Identity, marginality and postcoloniality are explored on a massive scale in this intense Australian-Chinese story.

The pun on “slope” is quite deliberate. Ouyang quotes a nineteenth century issue of the Ballarat Star among several epigraphs to the novel: “In our time at least… [Chinese] will write us no books, edit no journals, add nothing to science or the arts, serve on no juries nor in any legislative assembly.” He further cites Henry Lawson: “A time will come when the Chinaman will have to be either killed or cured — probably the former.”

Not that either of those is racist, of course; Australians have never been racist, have they? Just ask John Howard, or Keith Windschuttle. Lawson may have been drunk at the time, and the Ballarat Star was just joshing of course… Not.

I will let you know later what I think of the novel.


I have added some interim thoughts and more information on the second comment below; and thanks also to John Baker for his comment.

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4 responses to “Two novels with Asian connections

  1. John Baker

    June 1, 2006 at 6:39 pm

    Hi Ninglun
    The result of wondering what it is I know about writing. There must be quite a database of knowledge tucked away somewhere inside. So I’m eeking it out, scraping out all those crevices where the good stuff hides itself away. Not easy, but it’s coming, slowly.

  2. More on Ouyang Yu

    June 2, 2006 at 4:44 pm

    The title Eastern Slope Chronicle is also a reference to poet Su Dong Po or Su Shi; Dong Po means “Eastern Slope”.

    He was often at odds with a political faction headed by Wang Anshi. This faction’s rise to power eventually resulted in Su Shi being exiled twice to remote places; first (1080-1084) to Huangzhou (now in Hubei province), and the second time (1094-1100) to Huizhou (now in Guangdong province) and Hainan island. The Dongpo Academy in Hainan was built on the site of his residence in exile. In Huangzhou, Su Shi lived at a farm called Dongpo (‘Eastern Slope’), from which he took his literary pseudonym. He died in Changzhou, Jiangsu province.

    Caro Llewellyn, Director of the 2004 Sydney Writers Festival, has this to say about Ouyang Yu’s novel.

    “There are lots of people who are underrated and don’t get the recognition they need, or deserve. That’s because there’s not enough attention given to books in the media. Books pages in newspapers are shrinking,” she says.

    Chinese-born novelist and poet Ouyang Yu is one writer who has not received his due, she says. His award-winning novel The Eastern Slope Chronicle was rejected 29 times before a Blue Mountains-based publishing house bought it in 2002.

    Holding two fingers about an inch apart, she says: “There was a review, one review, in a Sydney paper and it was that big, for what is really an extraordinary book.”

    It is an uncomfortable, interesting novel.

  3. oyu

    July 14, 2006 at 9:42 pm

    what made you uncomfortable pls?

  4. ninglun

    July 14, 2006 at 10:23 pm

    That was not a personal comment. What I meant was that some Australian readers might find the novel’s honesty about a number of things uncomfortable. That may not be a bad thing.

    I can’t give examples right now, as I have lent the book to a friend who wanted to read it after reading this entry.

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