cover image Old Floating Cloud: Two Novellas

Old Floating Cloud: Two Novellas

Can Xue, Can Xue, Ts'an-Hsueh. Northwestern University Press, $17 (269pp) ISBN 978-0-8101-0988-9

Partly to avoid condemnation by the Chinese government and partly in reaction to the social realism of Mao Zedong's regime, Can Xue (Dialogues in Paradise ) has fashioned two stubbornly obscure novellas about contemporary China that veil political and social commentary in symbolic, psychotic grotesquerie. But these overlong anti-narratives will test the limits of readers' patience. In ``Yellow Mud Street,'' Can Xue follows the lives of the inhabitants of an otherworldly neighborhood where black ash ``pours down from the sky like garbage'' and excrement spills from dilapidated latrines; people's bodies stink of sweat, they are in constant fear of government censure and they work at the ``S'' factory producing steel balls for no ostensible purpose. Their one hope is the coming of Wang Zi-guang, a spirit who possibly possesses the truth that will set free their wretched lives. The characters in the title novella live in similarly repulsive circumstances, yet Can Xue concentrates more on warped relationships: parents and children harbor murderous feelings for each other, in-laws butt in where they are not welcome and everyone is always spying on everyone else. (Oct.)