Six protagonists. Six perspectives. Six chapters. Dinner for Six by Nanjing-based Lu Min is about two single-parent families and their four teenage children in an industrial town on the outskirts of a big city. Educated widow Su Qin and laborer, and heavy-drinking, widower Ding Bogang, who meet while working at a chemical plant, start an affair and begin arranging dinners every Saturday night to bring their children together. Then Su’s smart daughter Xiaolan falls in love with Ding’s unemployed son...
“The four children are as different as they could possibly be. Of the two girls, one is ambitious and clever, the other is gormless but actually does rather well for herself,” says Nicky Harman, who worked with Helen Wang—both award-winning translators in the U.K.—on the English edition for Balestier Press. “Then there are the two boys: the elder one, artistic and rather lost, and the other very uncertain about his body image and his sexuality, but he does come out good in the end. We follow their very different lives through childhood and into adulthood. It’s only at the end that we realize quite how deeply Lu Min has drawn us into these six different lives and how she has made each of the six characters stand out as individuals. Her skill as a storyteller makes this novel—what a wonderful story—seem almost effortless.”
The 365-page Dinner for Six “examines the fabric of society and probes the conflicts and changes that shake the core of today’s world,” says Serbian translator Bojan Tarabic. “Each of the six perspectives touches on the many slippery-slope fallacies of today’s public discourse. Lu deftly relates these Chinese phenomena in a way that is familiar to Western readers. This novel encapsulates new class divisions and questions the boundaries of morality while celebrating the fighting spirit among the disadvantaged who are striving to succeed in the new China.” The Serbian edition, published by Albatros Plus, was hailed as the best book of the week by the country’s largest newspaper, Večernje novosti, upon its publication.
For Swedish translator Anna Gustafsson Chen, prolific Lu, who was born in 1973, has created a different picture of contemporary China. “I can say without exaggeration that most of the Chinese literature translated into Swedish has been written by male writers born in the 1950s or 1960s, such as Mo Yan and Jia Pingwa, and mostly depicts the rural life of farming communities,” Chen says. “In contrast, Lu paints a new environment of township factories and working families in the midst of rising unemployment.” This novel, she says, “inherits the neorealism tradition of contemporary Chinese literature, reveals some darker and more profound aspects of life, and vividly portrays and grasps the psychology of its protagonists.”
Swedish paper Sydsvenskan, in its book review segment in January 2021, described Dinner for Six as “an unusual novel about an ordinary subject: family relations... [It] is also an interesting and insightful account of what happened in the factories in the late 1990s when China implemented economic reforms that affected state-owned enterprises and their employees. Lu Min’s writing is accessible, humorous and sarcastic, and rich in imagery but does not overwhelm the readers.”
Dinner for Six, which is included in the second volume of Phoenix Publishing and Media Group’s Jiangsu Literature Translated series for promoting Jiangsu literature and authors, is Lu’s seventh novel and took her three years to write. It won the 2012 People’s Literature Award for Excellent Novel in China while its movie adaptation received the Jury Prize and the Best Actor Award at the 11th Paris Chinese Film Festival in 2017. The novel is now available in English, German, Serbian, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish. The Adriana Hidalgo edition, which is Lu’s first novel to be translated into Spanish, is also the first full-length novel by a contemporary Chinese female writer to be translated for the Spanish-speaking world.
For Lu, it was an unforgettable encounter with author Su Tong while working as a postal clerk that inspired her to start writing. She was 25. Since then, Lu has won many awards in China, including the prestigious Lu Xun Literature Prize in 2010 for her short story “Accompany the Feast.” One of China’s most critically acclaimed writers of her generation, Lu has written nine novels and 17 short story anthologies, such as Paradise Temple, A Second Pregnancy, 1980, and Xie Bomao R.I.P.