Last Words from Montmartre

Qiu Miaojin, trans. from the Chinese by Ari Larissa Heinrich. New York Review Books, $14.95 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-59017-725-9
The reception of this short novel, which is considered a high point in Taiwanese LGBT fiction, will unavoidably be colored by Qiu’s suicide in 1995, at age 26 (the book was written just before her death and posthumously published in Taiwanese). Her memorable dedication reads, “For dead little Bunny and Myself, soon dead.” As Heinrich, the translator, explains in the afterword, the book’s spiraling, plotless structure mirrors Qiu’s increasingly intense last days. Written in the form of letters, the novel vacillates between romantic ecstasy and despair, while a coherent story slowly emerges. As the unnamed narrator pursues graduate studies in France, she grows increasingly alienated from her lovers and family still living in Taiwan. She feels adrift and alone without the love of her life, Xu, and without Bunny, the pet rabbit they cared for together, and she seeks relief from her overwhelming pain: “I long to lie down quietly by the banks of a blue lake and die.” Qiu’s voice, both colloquial and metaphysical, enchants even as she writes from the familiar perspective of a spurned lover. It would be wrong to interpret the book’s—or, for that matter, the author’s—ultimate surrender to death as a rejection of the richness of life; rather, like Goethe’s young Werther, this “last testament” (an alternative translation of the title) affirms the power of literature. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/14/2014
Release date: 06/03/2014
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