An Empty Room

Mu Xin, trans. from the Chinese by Toming Jun Liu. New Directions, $13.95 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-0-8112-1922-8
Characters occupy a haunting world of ambivalence and moral decay in Mu's English language debut, a collection about people unmoored by the changes that took place in 20th-century China. The author elides most of the horrors of WWII and the Cultural Revolution ("without getting into too much detail, what followed was a long, dark period of feeling neither dead nor alive"), but the psychological scars left by both lie at the heart of these stories: people are murdered, sent to labor on farms, and imprisoned for "decadent thoughts," offering context for the small but lacerating sorrows at the forefront of each story. A small boy loses a cherished object in "The Moment Childhood Vanished," an event that is both trivial and darkly ominous. Petty slights lead to shocking violence in "Eighteen Passengers on a Bus." Perhaps the most telling work is "Fong Fong No. 4," in which a young girl reinvents herself to suit the whims of history, becoming an intellectual, then a farm laborer, then a businesswoman, in the process shedding her identity, her sentimentality, and, finally, some of her humanity. These stories have an exquisite, crystalline quality ably captured by Liu's flawless translation. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/28/2011
Release date: 05/01/2011
Genre: Fiction
Open Ebook - 160 pages - 978-0-8112-1966-2
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