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A Dictionary of Maqiao [Paperback]

Han Shaogong

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Book Description

20 Jun 2013
From the daring imagination of one of China s 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.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 394 pages
  • Publisher: Dial Press; Reprint edition (20 Jun 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385339356
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385339353
  • Product Dimensions: 20.9 x 13.4 x 2.6 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 491,259 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

The best novel of the year isn't that DeLillo-on-automatic-pilot thing that broke out, along with SARS, this spring; nor the smutty anti-Islamic screed by the super-annuated French juvenile delinquent; nor even Jane Smiley's excellent investigation of the unlikely souls of real estate agents. Rather, it is this 'dictionary' of the dialect of a fictitious village, Maqiao, lost in the squat hills of South China. San Francisco Chronicle Book Review [A] subtle and smashingly effective critique of the futility of totalitarian efforts to suppress language and thought -- and, more to the point, a stunningly imaginative and absorbing work of fiction. Kirkus Reviews [ A Dictionary of Maqiao] is a magnificent book, epic in its ambitions and sweep without any of the sentimental obfuscation on which that genre so often depends. The Village Voice [B]oth fascinating and masterful... Han paints a detailed, intriguing and amusing picture of what happens when Marxism collides with entrenched village beliefs, and how traditional China coexists with modernity. The book is filled with peculiar, beguiling, tragic characters and scenery so real you can touch it... This is an intelligent, amusing, clever, fascinating and well-written view of a China most of us never see, or don't recognize when we do. Asian Review of Books To enter [ A Dictionary of Maqiao]'s pages is to cross into a world of bandits and ghosts, where 'rude' means 'pretty,' and homosexuals are 'Red Flower Daddies' and people don't die, they 'scatter.' The New York Times Book Review Dictionary of Maqiao is a wonderful, many-layered novel written as a series of definitions which gains further depth from a good translation... Han Shaogong's novel [is] clever, sympathetic and amused... Julia Lovell's translation is an impressive achievement, a fine reflection of a complex book. Times Literary Supplement Han Shaogong's novel has won wide acclaim, and deservedly so; through his treatment of language, he not only vividly portrays village life in rural China, but also inspires readers to rethink what they are accustomed to taking for granted. Persimmon Sometimes humorous, but crude and grim at other times, the entries all intertwine to give readers a picture of life in this distant region. Library Journal The narrator's folkloric stereotypes the provincial simpletons and fools, the cuckolded husbands, the long-suffering wives resolve affectingly into distinct human beings. And the peasant vocabulary vulgar, quaint, superstitious which so perplexesthe earnest young outsider is also revealed to be cunningly subversive, an antidote to the totalitarian imposition of a "reality"irreconcilably at odds with the real thing. -- Amanda Heller The Boston Globe This is a serious, ground-breaking and finally brilliant novel by one of China's leading authors... The translation is everywhere excellent -- fluent, colloquial where appropriate, without being excessively so, learned in places, and without any hint anywhere of 'translationese'... surely destined for classic status. -- Bradley Winterton Taipei Times In its formal inventiveness, its nuanced depiction of Chinese peasant life, and its speculative explorations into the Chinese cultural psyche, this is one of the finest novels of the post-Mao era to so far make its way into English. -- Jeffrey Twitchell-Waas Review of Contemporary Fiction Worth reading...fascinating and surprisingly accessible. -- Anton Graham China Economic Review Han is a good storyteller, ingeniously leading the reader into the heart of his stories... A Dictionary of Maqiao is readable and enjoyable. --Fatima Wu World Literature Today

About the Author

Han Shaogong is an award-winning novelist, essayist, and translator. He is author of Moon Orchid (1985), Bababa (1985), Womanwomanwoman (1985), and Deserted City (1989). He is also former editor of the magazines Hainan Review and Frontiers, and is vice-chairman of the Hainan Writer's Association.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.9 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book takes me back to my home and my childhood 21 Feb 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book takes me back to my home, a village in Southern Hunan Province, China, and to my childhood. When I was reading, the stories and the people jump out of the book onto my memory. It reminds me of my childhood friends, my relatives, the village doctors, the traveling smith and craftsmen.
When I was 6 or 7 years old, I often grazed water buffalos with my friends in the slops of Wuling (Five Peaks) Mountain. One day we saw a World War II bomb delivered by the Japanese airplane. We were so curious, excited and nave. We moved it to the grain yard of our agricultural production brigade on the buffalos?back. Fortunately, the explosive was already gone possibly because of aging and weathering. This book forces me to recall the detail of this incident and reassure that nobody was hurt by our ignorance.
During that time our village was often visited by a locksmith, who is the one spoke "xiang qi?accent. He was tall with broad shoulders and white beard. He carried two cabinets covered by glasses on a bamboo pole. Whenever he came, we surrounded his workshop area in the grain yard. He was always accompanied by a young boy of our age. I never figured out why that boy would play with us while the locksmith was making the 5 or 10 cent deals with the adults. The visit was usually about two to three hours. Then they left for other villages. We saw them off in sun and in rain. They did not take away anything from us. But they brought us excitements every time.
In our area, we had village doctors they used to practice Chinese medicine in Jianxi province. They always told us that people from Jianxi province were our relatives. We greeted each other "Lao Biao? I would always have remembered them because I was often sent by my mom to ask for medicine help when our family members felt unease.
Our village also hosted two youngsters from the city. At that time, there were about 16 or 17 years old. They worked hard to learn and to grow up. I didn't know what was their feeling when they lived in our village. But I know the villagers are still talking about them and wishing them well.
I never had the habit to keep a dairy for my past. I have forgot many things about my childhood. The author of this book recorded the language I have used and the stories I have experienced. It reminds me many of my happiness and sadness.
If you want to understand Chinese society, Chinese people, and the rural areas in China, I recommend you read this book. The writing is crisp, the information is practical, and the stories are true. The translation is great.
At this pint, a pop-rice master is walking towards me from the book, with the black, bomb-shaped and air-tight rice cooker, the charcoal stove and the bellow on his shoulder. The black soot covers his face. His smiling reveals only his eyes and teeth. I hear the explosion of the air. Now, I am going to put a bag of popcorn in my microwave so that I will progress with the book and step back to my hometown with my uncle.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent - fuses experimentalism and localism 31 July 2003
By "sjwillard" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is an unmistakable classic: beautifully written by Han Shaogong and superbly translated by Julia Lovell. Anyone who feels fatigued with contemporary American or British fiction should read this for an object lesson in what is being produced out there, in foreign languages, and how important it is that we keep our translation market alive.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poignant, innovative, thought-provoking 5 May 2004
By S. Calhoun - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In 1970 16-year-old Han Shaogong was sent to the Southern Chinese village of Maqiao in Hunan Province to plant rice and tea as a member of the Educated Youth. During his years in Maqiao he carefully made notations of the differences in culture, customs, and language that he observed as a stranger. Later in his life Shaogong became a central member of the Root-Searching Movement that aimed to undermine and reverse the thought-control mechanisms instituted by the Cultural Revolution and rebel against the highly-structured controls on literature, language, and aesthetics. Shaogong returned to his observations of Maqiao and developed this book to further the movement. THE DICTIONARY OF MAQIAO is structured as a dictionary with 110 entries, but it is not a tedious index of words and meanings; rather this book provides small vignettes of how life, both human and natural, is lived in Maqiao. Shaogong's position as an outsider provides him with a unique perspective of the village. He detailed the often-eccentric habitants and their distinctive language that differs from his own. By documenting these cultural and custom differences Shaogong demonstrates how there is great variety and fluency of unlike the teachings of the Maoist doctrines. I loved reading this book and would highly recommend it to others.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One of the great towns in our literary world... 17 Sep 2006
By David Alston - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This remarkable novel was a random discovery; after finishing it I do hope that Han Shaogong finds a larger audience around the world.

A novel structured like a dictionary of a semi-real, semi-fictional town in a rather remote region of southern China, A DICTIONARY OF MAQIAO is a remarkable, dazzling creation - each 'dictionary entry' is a vignette unto itself, each of which gradually coalesce into something greater. Shaogong's Maqiao is a bit like Garcia-Marquez' Macondo or Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County, a semi-fictional place upon which one can examine (and also honor and satirize) the varied contradictions and conundrums of a changing nation.

A DICTIONARY OF MAQIAO is set against the backdrop of the cultural revolution, though these political events don't intrude into the center of the story. Shaogong instead emphasizes language, specifically it's mutability and restless, dynamic evolutions, symbolic of life itself, and this tactic (or fascination) does serve to also place external events into some sort of philosophical perspective.

The end result is a novel that is fascinating, inventive and endlessly playful, with a vast cast of intriguing characters, and a captivating, cinematic precision. It didn't seem to get much attention when published in translation, which is highly unfortunate - it's a novel worth going out of your way to read.

-David Alston
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars absurd realism 12 Sep 2010
By Chris Reinewald - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Mark Leenhouts translated Han Shogongs underestimated classic of contemporary China in Dutch (De Geus/Novib publishers). A novel in lemmata about the 'doublespeak' of Chinese farmers during the Cutural Revolution. Indirect, absurd references to their situation. Gossip. To enjoy bit by bit."
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