Irina's Hat: New Short Stories from China

By Judah, Stephen | Chinese Literature Today, July 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Irina's Hat: New Short Stories from China


Judah, Stephen, Chinese Literature Today


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Irina's Hat: New Short Stories from China. Josh Stenberg, ed. Fiction. Portland, ME. MerwinAsia. 2013. 360 pages. $75 (cloth). $25 (paperback). ISBN 9781937385224

A chill autumn wind bites the face; new running shoes bite the ground. As I run, legs turning over, the stories turn over in my head. I am reminded of Auntie saying, "And just like an American, right after work I have to go running." I remember slow-witted Nation Jin and upstart Zhang Guoliang. They are but a few of the colorful characters that populate Irina's Hat: New Short Stories from China, a collected anthology of contemporary work by Chinese authors for Chinese readers. In the introduction, editor Josh Stenberg points out that all too often in Western culture, we are forcefed views of China through a filter. We hear second- and third-hand accounts of how Chinese people think, feel, love, and write. With a fiery passion, and in cooperation with The Chinese Writer's Association, Stenberg aims to provide American readers with a view of the Chinese perspective that is as unfiltered as possible. The English-speaking reader will have the delight of engaging with translations that stay out of the way, allowing Chinese characters to seep into the corners of the mind.

If a single unifying thread can be identified as running through this collection, one that provides a unique Chinese perspective in these stories, it would be "observation." In most of the stories, the storyteller is not the protagonist, does not drive the action. Often the tellers are more like tourists themselves, walking side-by-side with the reader as they explore intriguing people and circumstances. It is through this empirical perspective that a voice of discovery can be heard. The main actors often come to a sudden realization at some point in their respective tales that they have a role to fill in the greater machine of society. The thread can be summarized in the story of the character Mei, who was a call girl when "she realized she had been living in 'this world' all along. This was such an obvious, mundane realization that it bordered on the profound."

It is among the "obvious" and "mundane" things that these stories are told. …

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