cover image The Invisible Valley

The Invisible Valley

Su Wei, trans. from the Chinese by Austin Woerner. Small Beer (Consortium, dist.), $16 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-61873-145-6

Wei’s pleasantly picaresque novel, his first to be translated into English, deploys humor and drama as it exposes the harsh realities of China’s agricultural reeducation program in the 1960s through the experiences of one of its hapless young victims. Lu Beiping is a 21-year-old city dweller when the government sends him “down to the countryside” to work on a rubber plantation on Hainan Island. Almost immediately he is tricked into a “ghost-marriage” to the spirit of his foreman’s dead daughter, dispatched to herd cattle on Mudkettle Mountain, and befriended by a ragtag family of government-fearing “driftfolk” who have fled to the wilderness. Bei (as he is nicknamed) feels as though he has fallen “from the bright outer world... into this dark, hidden place at the earth’s edge,” and from his naïveté and inexperience arise most of the tale’s comic moments, as when Bei sweats so much during his duty as a cowherder that his feet become pungent enough to clear a room. The superstitions and customs of the driftfolk, and the atrocities recounted by one who saw his family massacred during the Cultural Revolution, give the book’s events a sense of the mystical and menacing. Western readers will find Wei’s novel a window to an unusual moment in his nation’s history. Though it sometimes defies understanding, that feels appropriate given the complexity of China’s Cultural Revolution. (Apr.)