By A Yi (Translated by Alex Woodend)
The promise of reading Chinese crime attracted me to Two Lives with ease. I prepared myself (a little too weakly) to dislike the translation to English, but it was even more difficult than I’d imagined. These seven stories have some changing formats (in dialogue presentation, mostly) – which was confusing – as well as odd structures. It was one thing to ignore the stifled language and descriptions, but another problem entirely to follow along with the story at times. Characters and situations lost me more than once, causing me to reread pages multiple times before realizing where I got knackered. Sometimes, I never figured out why things were losing me.
As I’ve started doing with anthologies as of late, I kept some basic notes along the way. With “Two Lives,” I couldn’t help but wonder if I was meant to feel sympathy toward the character, because, frankly, I hated him. I also didn’t see the point of the story, or if there was a message. I know some things get lost in translation and that this of a different culture, but still.
With “Attic,” one of my earliest thoughts regarded all the unwanted sex I’d already read in less than fifty pages of the book. I understand that women are of a different class in China, but it was depressing to have it shoved in your face so casually. The story was, at least, better than “Two Lives,” even if I did get confused at times due to the translation.
“Spring” ended up being a complete fail for me. I was losing track of which character was which, and what character was narrating and when. There were also timeframe jumps that weren’t clear. Between the messy storytelling and the poor dialogue, I struggled greatly with this one.
“Bach” turned things around for a bit. The search for the missing man in the mountains caught my attention, but the final sequence muddies it up. There’s a conversation with a hooker there that goes fine until she suddenly spews all of her problems onto the guy. It’s not only confusing, but the guy starts apologizing to her and crying (despite the fact they don’t even know each other). I really felt like I was missing something at the end.
“Fat Duck” basically put me to sleep. I honestly can’t remember what the story was about.
Lastly, there was “Predator,” which was boring and heavy with over-convoluted descriptions that seemed hardly important or necessary.
Unfortunately, this was a bad start to Flame Tree’s new Stories from China series. I will still give it another chance on their next entry, as long as it isn’t also written by A Yi. I just don’t think his stories are for me.
Review by Aiden Merchant
I received a copy of this book from Flame Tree Press for review consideration.