Loud Sparrows: Contemporary Chinese Short-Shorts

Loud Sparrows: Contemporary Chinese Short-Shorts

by Aili Mu
     
 

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Extremely short stories-known as short-shorts-have become a global phenomenon, but nowhere have they been embraced as enthusiastically as in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. The form's artistic and aesthetic freedoms allow authors to capture the tone, texture, and chaos of their rapidly changing societies in infinitely inventive ways. Fragments and

Overview

Extremely short stories-known as short-shorts-have become a global phenomenon, but nowhere have they been embraced as enthusiastically as in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. The form's artistic and aesthetic freedoms allow authors to capture the tone, texture, and chaos of their rapidly changing societies in infinitely inventive ways. Fragments and contingencies reveal unofficial histories, undocumented memories, and the trials of everyday individuals, and the genre's lean format is a welcome antidote to a culture characterized by rampant excess.

Loud Sparrows is a spirited collection of ninety-one short-shorts written by Chinese authors over the past three decades. Presenting diverse voices and perspectives by writers both well known and new to the art, the stories are culled from newspapers, magazines, literary journals, and personal collections. Their subjects range from the mundane to the sublime and illuminate everything from humanist ideals to traditional virtues to the material benefits of a commercialized society. The anthology is organized into thematic categories such as Change, Creatures, (In)fidelities, Grooming, Governance, Nourishment, and Weirdness, and includes notes to better understand the genre. Each section is introduced by an original piece of flash fiction written by Howard Goldblatt.

The short-short, to borrow a Chinese saying, is "small as a sparrow but has all the vital organs" of a good story. Loud Sparrows offers a comprehensive introduction to a unique literary genre that has revolutionized world literature.

Editorial Reviews

Los Angeles Times

Beautiful and thought-provoking.

New York Review of Books - Perry Link

The pieces are varied, lively, often charming, and occasionally brilliant.

The Complete Review

It's well worth dipping into (repeatedly).

Los Angeles Times - Susan Salter

Beautiful and thought-provoking... A breeze of aesthetic freedom flows through all of them, making them fun to read.

Time Out Beijing - Jenny Niven

Funny, touching, intriguing and sometimes very beautifully... They are tiny vignettes of Chinese life in all its entire chaotic splendour.

The Vancouver Sun - Steve Noyes

Loud Sparrows is a delightful collection of short-shorts.

New York Review of Books
The pieces are varied, lively, often charming, and occasionally brilliant.

— Perry Link

Time Out Beijing
Funny, touching, intriguing and sometimes very beautifully... They are tiny vignettes of Chinese life in all its entire chaotic splendour.

— Jenny Niven

The Vancouver Sun
Loud Sparrows is a delightful collection of short-shorts.

— Steve Noyes

Kirkus Reviews
Anthology of Chinese short-shorts ranges from exotic to downright weird. Apparently, short-short stories (under a thousand words) have taken China, Taiwan and Hong Kong by storm. Whence this collection representing what the editors' introduction cites as a global phenomenon. In China, short-shorts are not merely the province of creative-writing programs or literary contests, but have a mass readership in magazines and newspapers. This anthology attempts to bill as literature what are essentially anecdotes . . . la Paul Harvey. Whether the culture barriers are too opaque, the translation issues too thorny or self-censorship too rampant, the most avid reader of international literature may find these stories vague and puzzling. Division into 15 sections with seemingly arbitrary theme headings, e.g. Governance, Controversy and yes, Weirdness, imposes no real coherence. A few of the pieces are gently ironic, while many amble aimlessly-the majority of these 91 tales are more accurately characterized as sketches. In "Losing the Feet," a shoe clerk is drawn to a customer with smelly feet, and when she disappears, his own feet start to smell. "The Beat" involves a son's gift of a metronome-delayed by a garrulous old geezer-to a mother who, in retirement, is pursuing her lifelong dream of learning the piano. "A Cup of Tea" captures a petty bureaucrat's anguish over not offering tea to a non-tea-drinking superior, and then over apologizing for his lapse. Readers may not grasp the outcome of certain stories ("A Capable Man Can't Handle a Small Case," "Cat"). Some smack of horror ("Flies," "Chimney Smoke"). Occasionally, entries succeed by rendering a socioeconomic phenomenon concrete: the foodchain of trash trucks and trash-pickers, in "The Cycle"; or by illustrating a peculiar prejudice: a male obstetrician risks offending by delivering babies and pays with his life for his skill ("Small-Hands Chen"). Other stories echo Western fables ("The Crow and the Fox") or pop songs ("Black Umbrella"). Too few achieve the emotional precision of "A Knock at the Door" or "An Encounter with General Zhou."A curiosity at best.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231138499
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
03/03/2008
Series:
Weatherhead Books on Asia Series
Pages:
272
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.70(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Contemporary China, itself a huge book filled with sound and fury, abounds in extraordinary happenings and is stained with blood and tears. This constitutes a boon for Chinese writers: calling upon little imagination, they can tear any page from this book and turn it into a work or art. The line between fact and fiction, after all, is blurred-history has been read as fiction and fiction regarded as an extension of history. Aili Mu, Julie Chiu, and Howard Goldblatt have chosen the finest examples of short-shorts and translated them for this collection. These unique and discerning representations allow English readers to catch glimpses of daily life, to conjure up pictures of Chinese history, and to savor the exquisite ingenuity of Chinese literature.
From the preface by Bei Dao

What People are saying about this

Steven L. Riep

Loud Sparrows, with its balanced treatment of short-shorts from China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong and its inclusion of works by well-known fiction writers, offers a major step forward in a largely untouched field of Chinese literature available in translation. It shows off short-shorts at their finest-carefully crafted works that take advantage of the challenge of the tight space limitations inherent to the genre.

Steven L. Riep, Brigham Young University

Christopher Lupke

This volume runs the gamut of human emotions and situations, not to mention styles of expression and modes of representation. Some short-shorts are long on dialogue and are witty and light; others are brooding and haunting, revealing the dimensions of their subjects through in-depth narrative and description. What they all have in common is that they crystallize some important human moment, leaving the reader with a brief but resonant impression.

Christopher Lupke, Washington State University

Meet the Author

Aili Mu is associate professor of Chinese at Iowa State University.

Julie Chiu is assistant professor of translation at Lingnan University in Hong Kong.

Howard Goldblatt is research professor of East Asian languages and literatures at the University of Notre Dame and an internationally renowned translator.

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