Monday, November 28, 2011

Excerpts from Vertical Motion

By Can Xue
Translated from Chinese by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping
Open Letter Books

Because this book of bleak urban surrealism is impossible to explain.

"Vertical Motion"

When we stop digging, we don't move. We're like pupae as we dream in the black earth. We know that our dreams are similar, but our dreams have never been strung together. Each of us has his or her own dreams. During those long dreams, I can bore deep into the earth and fuse into a single body with the earth. In the end, my dreams are about only the earth. Long dreams are great, for they are sheer relaxation. But if this goes on for a long time, I feel vaguely discontented, because a dream of earth can never give me the joy I most want to experience.

"Red Leaves"

After finishing the cigarette, Gu thanked the worker and stood up, intending to continue up the stairs, when he suddenly heard the worker beside him make a cat sound. It was very harsh. But when he glanced at him, he looked as if nothing had happened. No one else was here. If he hadn't made the sound, who had? Gu changed his mind; he wanted to see if this person would do anything else.

He waited awhile longer, but the worker didn't do anything, he just put his cigarette butt in his pocket, rose, and went back to the water cart. He pushed the cart into the ward. Gu subconsciously put his hand into his own pocket, took out the cigarette butt, and looked at it, but he saw nothing unusual. In a trance, he twisted and crushed the butt. He saw an insect with a shell moving around in the tobacco shreds. The lower half of its body had been charred, but it still didn't seem to want to die. Nauseated, Gu threw the butt on the floor and, without looking back, climbed to the eighth floor.


It could be said that I had "turned a blind eye" to this building for years. The granite wall was very old with dark watermarks on it. This was a deserted building. I heard a key turn twice in the lock, and the door opened with a creak. I went inside without a second thought.

A person with his back to me was standing in the empty corridor. In the dim light, I couldn't get a good look at his face. I thought he was crying.

"On the 18th of April, you saw the beginning and the end of the matter," he said, his bare head gleaming and closing in on me. I still couldn't see his face well. I waited for him to go on talking, but he didn't: it was as if something had struck him. Bending over, he began to sob softly.


Wumei told her that the last time she went to the market to sell papercuts, a group of women had surrounded her. They wanted a hundred of her works. Those countrified women seemed to come from a remote mountain area. There were two blind people among them.

"Did they buy your interlinked rings?" asked Mrs. Yun.

"Yes. They wanted to take them home and learn how to make the rings. When I asked them where they came from, they just mentioned a strange place name. It definitely isn't in our province, and yet I could understand their accent. One of the older ones told me that the sun shines there all year long, so they like black and they like circles."

Mrs. Yun took stock of Wumei's bathroom wall. Now there were no longer black rings pasted there, but many yellow ants. Looking at them was nauseating. Wumei was truly spirited and skillful. Such tiny ants: she could cut them out they were so lifelike. But why didn't she cut some pleasant things?

Review Copy


Anonymous said...

"Recovering from a sordid conservative past"? Love it. May I re-welcome you to wackyVille.

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