Boy in the Twilight: Stories of the Hidden China is different from the other books I’ve read by Chinese authors, probably because it’s a collection of short stories rather than a chronicle of one person or family. The stories are blunt and speak of universal problems and real people. Nothing is sugar-coated or overly sentimental. Wives cheat on husbands and husbands on wives, and a lack of basic communication can lead to the disintegration of a seemingly strong marriage. The subtitle Stories of the Hidden China isn’t implying dark secrets of a Communist regime but the truth that the “hidden China” is just the same as any other country.
One of my favorite stories describes a man trying to get to a destination by bus, and how he strategizes to make sure he’s at the front of the crowd at the bus stop and estimates where he needs to be standing in order to be first to get through one of the bus doors. I experienced just this same thing while I was living in Shanghai – anxious people standing in the street to wait for the bus, the frantic surge when it finally arrives, the general lack of any etiquette at all.
The translator, Allan H. Barr, does a fantastic job. The writing is beautiful and fluid, a great complement to the richness of the stories written by Yu Hua. And although the stories have some depth to them, the book is not difficult to read. My galley comes in at a slim 197 pages; I read it in just a few hours.
An excellent book for those who enjoy short stories and are interested in trying out one of China’s most acclaimed authors. It will be released by Pantheon Books on January 21st, 2014.