ALU Book Club: Shenzheners Discussion
Team ALU couldn't wait to get back in the "studio" (aka, boardroom + old MacBook) to record our latest book club discussion, this time for August pick Shenzheners by Xue Yiwei (Linda Leith Publishing). We talked about the nature of literature in translation, preconceived, North American notions of China, and l-o-v-e in this beautifully-written short story collection. Don't forget to pick up a copy of our discussion questions for your own book club.See more details below
Check out some of the highlights from our own Shenzheners discussion below, or keep scrolling for our recording via SoundCloud. (And make sure to snag your own copy of the discussion questions).
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1. The first story of Shenzheners has a tongue-in-cheek reference to the nature of translation: can a translated work ever be true to the original? Do you feel this is true when reading other translated works? When reading Shenzheners?
"Sometimes there're cultural keys or just the way that ideas are phrased differently in different cultures that doesn't quite translate to English in the same way...whether or not it is true to the language depends on what it's trying to communicate...it's probably harder to get a translation instead of an interpretation." –Tan
"I actually love reading translations because I find the language so much more beautiful." –Mandy
"I found this translation really lovely...I feel like I got close to the spirit of the original [text of Shenzheners], whether I did or not, I feel like I did, so it seems successful in that way." –Lauren
2. This is a book devoted to reading and the literary tradition: the author makes several references to other literary works (e.g. James Joyce, Paul Auster, Gertrude Stein, etc). What function(s) do these references serve? Does Shenzheners evoke other literary works for you?
"With the idea of Shenzhen, with a lot of people coming from other places and not being native to Shenzhen, the translated works coming in are almost a piece of that...bringing in great works from all other places of the world, and the folks living there are engaging with them on their own terms...it's an interesting phenomenon through the book that mirrors the fact that you're in a multicultural society that values that people come from other places, and roots to the culture that are not necessarily Chinese." –Tan
"[North Americans] only read 'dead' translations, translations of classics that were written 200 years ago – is this the association that we make with those languages? That they're gone?...It was refreshing just to read about Chinese people, living life in China." –Lauren
3. Shenzheners tackles some of the paradoxes of a simultaneous Communist/Capitalist China (especially as it plays out in Shenzhen, a free economic zone). Was it the China you understood, as a Canadian reader? Why or why not?
"It was really the first time that I was exposed to reading about Chinese culture from a Chinese perspective that wasn't trying to explain it to me as a North American, it was just there, and I could just look at it and absorb it and appreciate it." –Tan
"A lot of the characters didn't have names... they were just sort of universal figures." –Mandy
4. In several of the stories, Xue Yiwei evokes the imagery of angel versus devil: sometimes within the same person. What does he mean by this?
"For me I found that most of the angel/devil imagery was associated with romantic and sexual relationships and the devils were always someone who caused the person anguish, either by not loving them or by abusing them within their relationship, whereas the angels were the object of someone's affection or desire...they became demons because they didn't return the affection of that person." –Tan
"The first story was really sad...when you find out why he hasn't been returning her emails. Up until that point, he's kind of the devil, if you want to look at that dichotomy there." –Mandy
"A stereotype of East Asian people is that they're very reserved and hold their emotions really close to the chest...it was really refreshing in this book to see how much yearning these characters had and how expressive they were with their emotions...and using words as powerful as 'angel' and 'devil' in an unironic way to express how someone is affecting them." –Lauren
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Don't forget! You can read Shenzheners along with us all month long. Our exclusive interview with Xue Yiwei is coming in hot next Wednesday, and you can always check in with us on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #teamALUreads. Also, if you missed our introduction quiz and Q&A with publisher Linda Leith, check it out here.
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