When I first encountered A Yi at a local literary festival many years ago, he was presented to me as a writer of criminal novels. The polite but shy A Yi looked furtively at the people around him as if they were from another species. Curious about what this guy had written, I bought his short story collection The Bird Saw Me.

The characters in the short stories of The Bird Saw Me are dreaming of being heroes but they spend their lives as the ordinary humans they are born to be. A Yi’s experience as a former police officer is revealed by the fact that crime is a common ingredient in his stories, but it is far from the most important part. Rather, existential matters such as the rootlessness of humans in a modern society are his source of inspiration.

In the story “The Prophet,” a man finds an unopened letter in a garbage can, addressed to a researcher at the highly esteemed Chinese Academy of Social Science. He takes it with him and reads it on the metro on his way home. Moved by the letter, he goes to his computer and writes down the content, believing that he has been blessed with a mission to spread the truth it contains to everyone in the world.

After reading A Yi’s short stories, my appetite was whetted, so I continued with his novel, What Should I Do Next? It is a first-person narrative in which the protagonist, a 19-year-old boy, plans the coldblooded murder of his schoolmate and his flight afterward. The easily duped police force makes the boy feel bored, and eventually he surrenders himself. We then accompany him through interrogations, a trial, and his verdict. Surprisingly, it’s through the secondary characters rather than the protagonist that we glimpse the immorality that has spread in a society undergoing rapid economic development. When I read What Should I Do Next?, I could not help but think of the protagonist of Albert Camus’s The Stranger, because the protagonist here is like a stranger in society, trying to find some kind of order in the absurd chaos called life.

A Yi is not a writer of crime novels; he’s a thinker writing about humanity. I am glad to see that since I started reading his books, he has become acclaimed by critics and awarded several prizes. A couple of years ago, he was recognized as one of the 20 best up-and-coming writers by a jury consisting of the most prominent literary critics and writers in China—among others, Nobel laureate Mo Yan.

Eva Ekeroth is the CEO and founder of Chin Lit, a new independent publishing house dedicated to bringing Chinese literature to Swedish readers. Previously, she was the Swedish cultural counselor to China at the Swedish embassy in Beijing.

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