This is one of the loneliest collections of stories I’ve ever read. It’s also remarkably beautiful, if only because it manages to never fall into despair. The will to go on, to keep living, even when all love is gone, even after realising that love was only a word one never could believe in or that one could no longer believe in. But there is so much more here than that.
–I never showed up in her dreams, I am certain, as people we keep in our memories rarely have a place for us in theirs. You may say that we too evict people from our hearts while we continue living in theirs, and that may very well be true for some people, but I wonder if I am an anomaly in that respect. I have never forgotten a person who has come into my life, and perhaps it is for that reason I cannot have much of a life myself. The people I carry with me have lived out not only their own rations but mine too, though they are innocent usurpers of my life, and I have only myself to blame.–
–In one of these revelatory moments she could have said, Moyan, you were not born to us; we only picked you up from a garbage dump–but no, my mother had never, even in her most uncharitable moment, said that to me, and in fact she kept the secret until her death, and for that alone I loved her, and love her still.–
–But animosity is easier to live with than sympathy and indifference leaves less damage in the long run.–
All from the first story in the collection and it sets the tone for the rest. But, maybe most important about these, is that this sentence lies within as well:
–I wished this life could go on forever.–
And I think, with that, this following sentence contain the whole of the book:
–One’s fate is determined by what she is not allowed to have, rather than what she possesses–
There is so much sadness here, but none of the characters give up. They are women battered in the many ways that life can ravage a person. Many of them are old or ageing, stepping through middle age or closer to the grave, and all of them have felt life go by, with its many regrets, its many battles, its endless wars, and I think, too, that it’s fitting that much of the first story in the collection takes place during military service.
Though it’s sad and lonesome, it manages to not destroy you, crush you under its weight. For this is a book that weighs heavy on the heart and may break one, if you have one to break, but there’s this stillness within them, this calming poise, where, even though the world is falling apart or was falling apart or has fallen apart, one can still breath and take that next step, wake up to that next unlikely dawn.
There is a strong sense of fatality, too, as in the first line of the story that the collection takes its name from:
–He was raised by his mother alone, as she was by her father.–
That sense of fatality is the current beneath the surface of these stories, where the generational gaps of Chinese society meet and react with one another, where the elders cannot understand the youth and the youth do not even care.
It’s a great collection, though at times a bit slow and less engaging, and some of the stories miss more than others. They attempt to lighten the mood, I think, but never go far enough, so they tend to wallow more, are somehow less direct and feel maybe out of place.
Anycase, I recommend it.