Not all stories are love stories | Reading Day

Recently, Chinese-American writer Yiyun Li’s novel "Should I Go" met readers in China, which is the first time that Yiyun Li has been translated into Chinese and introduced into domestic novels.

Many readers in China have heard of Yiyun Li, but many readers in China read Yiyun Li for the first time. Yiyun Li went to the United States to study after graduating from the Biology Department of Peking University, and later turned to writing. From the publication of her first novel collection "A Thousand Years of Worship" in 2005 to the present, she has always written in English, and has become one of the most accomplished Chinese writers in English. Now, she is finally ready to return her works to China.

The first novel translated into Chinese and published.

Many readers in China have heard of Yiyun Li.

Yiyun Li, a Chinese-American writer, is currently a professor and director of creative writing program at Lewis Art Center of Princeton University. She is a "post-70s" who went to the United States to study after graduating from the Biology Department of Peking University, and later turned to English writing. Her first collection of short stories, A Thousand Years of Worship, has aroused widespread concern and affirmation, and won the Frank O ‘Connor International Short Story Award, the American Pen Hemingway Award and the British Guardian Newcomer Award. She herself has been rated as the most noteworthy writer by major authoritative literary magazines, and won the MacArthur Genius Award in the United States in 2010. In 2012, Yiyun Li won the O Henry Award for her short story Kindness, making her the first Chinese writer to win the award. In 2022, Yiyun Li was elected as an academician of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a year later, she won the Faulkner Prize for Literature for her new work The Book of Goose.

So far, Yiyun Li has published six novels, three collections of short stories and one memoir. Should I Go, published in 2020, is her first novel translated into Chinese. In this novel, "Lilia has been married three times, raised five children, and is now looking forward to the birth of the 17th grandchild. She has been helping people around her to recognize herself all her life. At the age of eighty-five, she began to be fascinated by the diary of her old friend Roland. When she was young, they had a romantic relationship. She wanted to see what she could leave for the younger generation. The diary recorded Roland’s affairs in great detail. Lilia took pains to add footnotes to everything. A secret relationship that lasted for decades was slowly uncovered, including the existence of her daughter Lucy, who even Roland himself didn’t know. Flame-like passion, the grief of annihilation, people’s hearts go back and forth between these two poles, but they have to find their home and exit and continue to cruise. Yiyun Li gave a dazzling praise to life in the novel, about Lilia and about everyone who comes and goes in our lives. "

At the launch of Should I Go in Shanghai, Bao Huiyi, a young writer and associate professor of English at Fudan University, said that at first she thought the novel was a work about how to face aging and the last years of life, but later she found that it subverted all her presuppositions. She explained that the 80-year-old woman was obsessed with her old lover and went to such great trouble to read his diary, probably because she was immersed in the past, but this was not the case at all. With the development of the story, if it had a core meaning, it was the death of her daughter. In the novel, Lilia gave birth to a child with Roland, or she got a life from Roland. Later, this life passed away. Therefore, in Bao Huiyi’s understanding, Lilia didn’t go to the diary to trace the old love affair at all, and the author Yiyun Li also warned readers from the beginning that not all stories are love stories.

Photo courtesy of Yiyun Li Shanghai Translation Publishing House

Who collects who?

When reading Should I Go, Bao Huiyi found two different voices contending. "There is a male first-person narrator in the book, and then the voice-over is female, because Lilia is constantly making comments when reading Roland’s book, and subverts the male voice, or it can’t be said to be subversive, because her comments actually appear irregularly, which can be said to be a deconstruction of the life story that the man thinks he is. Then you will see such a struggle for the narrative subject, which is very interesting and very tense. "

Bao Huiyi believes that "Should I Go" has at least three or more layers of structure, the first of which is Roland, the author of the diary, and Lilia, the commentator, and the relationship between Lilia and Roland can be expanded. However, Yiyun Li is not unconventional. In an interview with Zhong Na, a bilingual writer and literary translator, Yiyun Li said that she was willing to rely on a traditional structure, and she thought that she could tell the story well with the help of an existing framework. In Bao Huiyi’s view, this is actually a solid writing attitude. Writers rely on their own handy framework to write dialogues and characters well.

Bao Huiyi said that perhaps when reading more than ten pages in the book, readers will feel that Yiyun Li is an author with profound narrative skills and sophisticated life wisdom. For example, in the book, the struggle for topics such as memory and time, the man thinks that he can write a book with a coffin, and the young girl becomes his lover, just one of his many "collections", even just a small footnote in his life, but who actually collects who, who forgets who, what is permanence, what is transience and what is possession?

Zhong Na shared her reading experience at the launch of Should I Go? Zhong Na said that in "Should I Go", readers can see that Lilia shared a lot of life wisdom, and there are many enlightening things, especially some golden sentences, which also show the personality of the characters. "I think the interesting thing that Yiyun Li presents in this book is that there are many golden sentences, but at the same time, the golden sentences are constantly being deconstructed and overthrown, and they are often contradictory, which actually constitutes the personality characteristics of Lilia."

In addition, Lilia keeps reading the diary of his old lover and responding, which seems paranoid. How to understand this behavior, Zhong Na spent a long time thinking, and finally found the answer in another book by Yiyun Li, Dear Friends, Write Your Life from My Life. "Yiyun Li suffered from depression for two years, and then she did some thinking and digestion by reading and reviewing her life, including her relationship with her family, her relationship with literature, and her relationship with the first half of her life. So in fact, she is slowly gaining some wisdom to regain the balance of her life by constantly reading the writer’s letters and diaries. So that book is actually having a dialogue with "Should I Go?", that is, through very in-depth reading, the lives of readers and authors are intertwined. So after I reread the book, I read "Should I Go" again, and I have a feeling of understanding Lilia. When a person’s life is in a dilemma, she re-establishes a narrative by reading this most extreme way to enter the other’s brain. "

A Chinese writer who writes in English

The Chinese simplified version of Should I Go was published, which made many readers who had heard of Yiyun Li read Yiyun Li for the first time.

At the launch of Should I Go, Penglun, an archipelago book publisher, recalled his association with Yiyun Li and shared the publishing story of Should I Go. He said that for many readers, Yiyun Li has always been a legend or a legend. From the publication of the first collection of novels "A Thousand Years of Worship" in 2005 to the present, she has always written in English, but she was not born and raised in the United States, but a writer who went to study in the United States from China. Before going to the United States, she had never published her works in Chinese. Among the current Chinese writers, Yiyun Li can be said to be the most accomplished writer in English, and many readers in China who are concerned about the world literary world are also curious. Why has Yiyun Li never published Chinese works before?

Peng Lun introduced that he began to pay attention to Yiyun Li in 2004. At that time, his job was to report some trends in the literary and publishing circles at home and abroad, and he learned by chance that Yiyun Li had won a new literary prize. He had never heard of this writer, so he searched the Internet for relevant information and got in touch with Yiyun Li by email.

In 2005, Yiyun Li published her first collection of short stories in the United States and won some literary prizes. At that time, Peng Lungang started publishing and asked Yiyun Li if she could translate this collection of novels into China, but she refused. With the increasing popularity of Yiyun Li, other China media began to pay attention to this writer. However, when asked when he would publish a book in China, Yiyun Li said no.

"I noticed at that time that she felt that she was not ready at that stage, or that China was not ready to accept her as a Chinese writer writing in English." Peng Lun said.

Ten years later, until 2020, Peng Lun suddenly received a letter from Yiyun Li’s agent and her latest novel manuscript at that time, that is, "Should I go?".

Zhong Na thinks, "Should I Go" is a very mature writer who is very satisfied with his current creation, so Yiyun Li is willing to make it the starting point for his work to enter the Chinese world. Zhong Na has been paying attention to Yiyun Li’s creative career. In her view, the writer’s writing has been constantly changing, broadening her own boundaries. In the early days, Yiyun Li’s writing actually paid more attention to the depiction of characters’ inner images, as well as the connection of very special characters’ emotions and relationships, and even hid himself among the characters. But later, Yiyun Li did a lot of experiments and broadening on texts and writing, and his works were more mature than those in his early years.

It is reported that besides Should I Go, Yiyun Li’s other two works, The Book of Goose and Wednesday’s Children, have also been put on the publishing schedule. "Although her works entered the Chinese world for the first time, many readers, especially female readers, recognized her voice and the charm of her works very quickly, which gave me great confidence." Peng Lun said.

Reporter: Jiang Dan Editor: Zheng Xu Proofreading: Yang Hefang