A Dictionary of Maqiao Paperback – 20 Jun 2013
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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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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 naïve. 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.
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.
Han Shaogong guides the reader through the fictitious author's "dictionary" of Maqiao, which acquaints us with a baffling set of customs, and a people who view themselves as a kind of "Middle Kingdom," in which the outside world is shunned. The novel becomes an inventive expose of Shaogong's sometimes profound insights into the restrictions of culture and language. The book's episodes can be rigorously dry or unexpectedly moving.
The diligent reader will be rewarded. The depth and honesty of Shaogong's insights reach to the present day, and his small town of Maqiao is certain to leave a deep impression. This prize-winning novel is a dictionary that compels your interest and enjoyment..