cover image Winter Pasture

Winter Pasture

Li Juan, trans. from the Chinese by Jack Hargreaves and Yan Yan. Astra, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-1-66260-033-3

Chinese journalist Juan makes her stateside debut with a magnificent tale about traveling through the freezing tundra of northern China. After publishing her second book, Juan decided “to embark on an adventure truly worthy of an author” by engaging in a way of life the Kazakhs have practiced for centuries. She joined the Cuma family, a couple in their 50s and their 19-year-old daughter, as they moved livestock to their winter home, a remote region that stretches across the border between China and Kazakhstan. Their trek lasted three days and was followed by a crushing winter with temperatures dipping to minus 31 degrees Fahrenheit. Along the way, Juan learned the value of hard work and the symbiotic relationship between man and nature. She highlights the importance of the herders’ chief survival tool, sheep manure, which is used to build animal pens and structures for human habitation in deep winter. She also recounts, in remarkable detail, learning the Kazakh technique of weaving textiles from the readily-available wool of the community’s hundreds-strong flock of sheep. A seamless blend of memoir, travelogue, and nature writing, Juan’s skillful prose paints an extraordinarily vivid picture of a remote world (“Nebulous nights etched with the moon’s halo, and those dawns dim and gloomy”). This mesmerizing memoir impresses on every page. (Feb.)