Book Quote Friday: 'Shanghai Baby'

      Asian writers inspire so much - there's something about the simplicity of their prose and the striking, relaxed, coolness (for want of a better word) of their imagery that just blows me away. There's always a facet of loneliness too: the stories are often first person, are usually an individual expression rather than the description of a group experience or dynamic and are often so random or surreal (a la Murakami) that they'd make no sense if explained or reflected back onto a second or third person. It's much more about what that one person experiences in that moment, no matter how personal, funny or outlandish that might be. 

 Shanghai Baby: A Novel     This particular excerpt is from Shanghai Baby by Wei Hui, or Zhou Weihui, as she's known in China, which was banned there upon release for its controversial content i.e. it's full of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, and asks an avalanche of questions about being a young woman in modern China and discovering yourself as a person through experimentation and experience. What isn't so often mentioned with reference to her, or this book, is that it's sweet, tender, brave and witty with an incredibly strong voice (perhaps not surprising as it's 'semi-autobiographical', although you could probably take the 'semi' out) and that she's quite rightly a phenomenon in China itself. I've adored this book for years and wanted to share this particular paragraph as I think it's a good example of the simplicity, inventiveness and pure aloof coolness that comes to mind for me when I think of modern Asian prose.

      ''You're going to lose, I'm about to get four in a row,' said Tian Tian, pointing to the chessboard to get my attention.

     'Intelligence is a gift and madness is an instinct, but if you exploit them for material gain, that's not right.' By now, my passion for debating was beginning to kick in. 'In the end, a genius can get into a worse mess than an idiot. Lately I've felt the Green Stalk Cafe's too peaceful. You can almost hear yourself blink. It's because there's a murder plot or something. I've got a worrying premonition.'

     'Then leave the place and come home and write,' said Tian Tian simply.

       When he said 'home' it always sounded so natural. This residence of three bedrooms plus a living room, filled with the scent of fermenting fruits, cigarette butts, French perfume and alcohol, filled with books and music and limitless space for fantasising, was tightly wrapped around our bodies like a bank of clouds from enchanted forests. You could wave them away but they stayed put. Actually, our apartment was a block of space that felt more predestined, and more genuine, than a home.

       Let's go home. Now must be the time to cut to the heart of things. Start writing; set off on this journey of writing using your dreams and your love. Use flawless prose to complete beautiful novels, one after the other. Use wit and passion to handle the story's opening, suspense, climax and conclusion, like the world's most fantastic singer standing on Everest, singing at the top of her lungs...'

Shanghai Baby, Wei Hui, 2002.

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