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I Love Dollars
and Other Stories of China
by Zhu Wen
translated by Julia Lovell
Columbia University Press (USA)

Judges' Citation: Zhu Wen's extraordinary "new urbanite" stories, superbly translated by Julia Lovell, portray contemporary China as a country where political and social pressures have resulted in hedonism, rootlessness, and soul-deadening nihilism.  With the painful humor and the devastating detachment of a Kafka or Borges, the author renders the struggle for survival and the search for meaning in a rapidly changing and bureaucratic society.  In I Love Dollars, Zhu Wen, whose work has long been published in the most prestigious literary magazines in China but was never before available in translation, has gifted us with his darkly comic view of the underbelly of the New China.

Book Description: In five richly imaginative novellas and a short story, Zhu Wen depicts the violence, chaos, and dark comedy of China in the post-Mao era. A frank reflection of the seamier side of his nation's increasingly capitalist society, Zhu Wen's fiction offers an audaciously plainspoken account of the often hedonistic individualism that is feverishly taking root.

Set against the mundane landscapes of contemporary China-a worn Yangtze River vessel, cheap diners, a failing factory, a for-profit hospital operating by dated socialist norms-Zhu Wen's stories zoom in on the often tragicomic minutiae of everyday life in this fast-changing country. With subjects ranging from provincial mafiosi to nightmarish families and oppressed factory workers, his claustrophobic narratives depict a spiritually bankrupt society, periodically rocked by spasms of uncontrolled violence.

For example, I Love Dollars, a story about casual sex in a provincial city whose caustic portrayal of numb disillusionment and cynicism, caused an immediate sensation in the Chinese literary establishment when it was first published. The novella's loose, colloquial voice and sharp focus on the indignity and iniquity of a society trapped between communism and capitalism showcase Zhu Wen's exceptional ability to make literary sense of the bizarre, ideologically confused amalgam that is contemporary China.

Julia Lovell's fluent translation deftly reproduces Zhu Wen's wry sense of humor and powerful command of detail and atmosphere. The first book-length publication of Zhu Wen's fiction in English, I Love Dollars and Other Stories of China offers readers access to a trailblazing author and marks a major contribution to Chinese literature in English.(Source: cup.columbia.edu)

Zhu Wen became a full-time writer in 1994 after working for five years in a thermal power plant. His work has been published in mainland China's most prestigious literary magazines, and he has produced several poetry and short story collections and one novel. He has also directed four films, including Seafood, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2001 Venice Film Festival, and South of the Clouds, which won the NETPAC Prize at the 2004 Berlin Festival. He lives in Beijing. Julia Lovell is a translator and critic of modern Chinese literature and a research fellow at Queens' College, Cambridge.

Praise

"Among the first things that need to be said about this admirable publication from Columbia is that the translation and introduction, both by Cambridge University's Julia Lovell, couldn't be of higher quality...If you believe, as I do, that most businessmen are simultaneously infantile and psychotic, then the dire effects of allowing an entire nation to be taken over by their values isn't hard to imagine. This wonderful book encapsulates these effects in five devastating satires. I Love Dollars is a publication that's not to be missed. ” — Wall Street Journal

"Modern China, as captured by Wen, is a Kafkaesque horror. The parallels to Kafka's work are uncanny: the endless bureaucracy, arbitrary nature of decision making, the crushing closeness of others, ambivalence to - almost reflexive fear of - sex, all coming together to make even the smallest task a trial of epic difficulty. Kafka's preoccupations seem a perfect fit for China, and Wen manages to capture all of the loathing, and paradoxically — and much to my great relief — all of the bleak humor of Kafka's best work...It might be hell to live through, but it makes for a fantastic read." — The Millions

More

I Love Dollars is one in a series of books in English translation from Asian languages. Check out the many other intriguing books in translation published by Columbia University Press.

Read a review of I Love Dollars in WaterBridge Review.