As part of Sina Books’ year in review feature, critic Xie Xizhang (解玺璋) introduces some worthy books that did not receive the attention they deserved last year. The article’s title, “Overlooked and overexposed literature of 2010,” extends the promise of some deserving take-downs, but the only overexposed title Xie mentions is Han Han’s ill-fated literary journal Party (独唱团). Here are his underexposed titles:
• Heaven/Tibet (天·藏) by Ning Ken (宁肯). A philosophical novel by the author of the well-received City of Masks (蒙面之城, 2001), which was nominated for the 2009 Newman Prize. Xie writes,
Seriously overlooked, it came to the attention of just a small minority despite being an extraordinarily good work. Apart from showing the history and culture of Tibet, the author how Wang Mojie internalized Tibet; one could say that this is Ning Ken’s own process of internalization. In this novel he writes of a thinker, and he inspires the reader to think as well. Some writers today call themselves word-slingers, and their novels are formed by piling words together. Not so with Ning Ken. His fiction is formed from thought. He is an author who is willing to think, and his works are heavily imbued with logical thinking. In this novel his “thoughts” are numerous and profound, and even contains an essential reflection and suspicion toward thought itself.
The author discussed his writing in an interview with the Beijing Evening News in October, and Paper Republic has more English-language information about the novel.
• Flowers of Purgatory (炼狱之花) by Xu Xiaobin (徐小斌). A fairy tale about a princess from an undersea kingdom who tries to navigate the unwritten rules of the modern entertainment industry. I picked this up mid-year but Xu’s narrative rhythm wasn’t what I was looking for at the time and I put it down two chapters in. I’ll have to take a second look. Xu’s family epic Feathered Serpent (羽蛇, 1998) has been translated into English, and Dunhuang Dream (敦煌遗梦, 1996) is forthcoming this year from Atria.
• Judas in Bloom (犹大开花) by Du Chan (杜禅), a writer from Henan, is a satire about the intellectual establishment. Critics quoted on the cover call it a modern version of The Scholars (儒林外史, 1750) and a prose version of the ground-breaking TV series “Stories of an Editorial Board” (编辑部的故事, 1991). Before reading Xie’s article, which praises the novel’s memorable characters, I’d never even heard of Judas in Bloom.
• Canticle to the Land (大地雅歌) by Fan Wen (范稳). Fan began his “Tibetan Land” trilogy before the Tibet craze of the past few years. This, the third volume, tells an engaging love story involving a Tibetan storyteller, French missionaries, domestic turmoil in China, a living Buddha, and the engagement between different cultures and religions.
• Lu Xun’s Mustache (鲁迅的胡子) by Jiang Yitan (蒋一谈) is a collection of short stories told in simple, direct language that stands in conscious opposition to the massive, overstuffed novels that excite newspaper book reviewers.
• The Legendary Huang Yongyu (传奇黄永玉) by Li Hui (李辉) is a critical biography of the early 20th-Century artist.
• Wang Meng’s Dream of the Red Chamber (王蒙的红楼梦) by Wang Meng (王蒙), who distilled a lifetime of reading the classic novel into twenty-seven lectures.
Xie also picks one translated book: The Red Wheel (红轮) by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
Heaven/Tibet (天·藏) by Ning Ken (宁肯) may not have been overlooked after all.
On Jan 14 (a few days after your post), it was designated one of the Top 5 Novels of 2010 by Dangdai (《当代》长篇小说年度奖).
The exciting voting is described here (oddly, the article does not name the authors of the nominated titles); Ning Ken was a front-runner and lost out to Chi Zijian by just two votes in the final round.
Xie mentioned Zhang Wei’s You Are on the Highland (你在高原) as well, but it seems like a ringer to me because several of the ten volumes in this year’s set had been published previously.