Stephen Gallup's Reviews > I Love Dollars And Other Stories of China

I Love Dollars And Other Stories of China by Zhu Wen
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it was amazing

I can't think of another collection of stories that I've appreciated as thoroughly as this one.

On one level, having spent some time in China, I recognize features that might seem bizarre to Western readers, such as the sidewalk scenarios -- the lengthy confrontation with the shopkeeper who insists that a passerby pay a fine for having dropped litter outside her door, or the challenge of the old granny to a man who inadvertently rolled his trailer bicycle over a tomato she'd dropped on the ground. But I think Wen Zhu draws out these points of friction until they become caricatures:

"The old lady said she'd bought 6 tomatoes, costing 2.5 yuan altogether, making each tomato 0.41666 yuan on average. Rounding it up, he owed her 0.42 yuan [less than half a penny by my calculation]. After a brief, stunned pause, the man demanded to see the other 5. ... I disagree, the man pronounced after thorough investigation. These 5 are all quite big, but the one I squashed was obviously much smaller..."

As explained in the preface, this obsession with money, even exceedingly trivial amounts of it, reflects the obsession with material wealth that took hold in China following disillusionment with the hollow promises of communism. The translator sees the stories as being primarily a commentary on how that change had made life even cheaper and coarser and more pointless than before:

"Socialist systems and institutions constantly fail those they are meant to serve: the threadbare health care provided in A Hospital Night; the unfinishable, centrally (un)planned power plant in Ah, Xiao Xie that generates only melancholia and treats its employees like indentured serfs; the abusive, uncouth 'People's Police' of A Boat Crossing. In Wheels, the narrator barely considers seeking protection from Nanjing's ineffectual police."

However, as I suggested in discussing another book about China, phenomena there may be extraordinary but aren't necessarily unique. The scenarios in these stories will be very familiar to anyone who read existentialist/absurdist literature in college (such as Kafka's nightmarish tales "A Country Doctor" and "The Metamorphosis"). (I took time out in the middle of this book to go back and reread that latter story. Its theme -- one's discovery that he is nowhere near as important or as valued as he'd supposed -- registered with me more than before, as I was laid off from my job earlier this year and cannot find a new one.) The translator notes that Wen Zhu claims Kafka as an influence and even had Kafka's portrait on the wall of his apartment. What Zhu sees in modern-day China would surely resonate with anyone who responds to Kafka's themes of alienation and no-win situations.

These stories do not indulge any saccharine preconceptions we may cherish about the way this world ought to be. Instead, it shines a brilliant light on the world as it often is. And in the process it somehow made me laugh several times.

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Reading Progress

May 18, 2015 – Started Reading
May 18, 2015 – Shelved
May 22, 2015 – Finished Reading

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