“A good novel will always make you, the reader, relate it to events in your own experience. As the story develops, so do you.”
The Book of Shanghai is a collection of 10 short stories that teleport you to the city of Shanghai. Each story was able to grab me and make me feel like I was shadowing the characters and their individual journeys.
I thought the writing was so beautiful and immersive that it truly felt like you’ve entered the soul of Shanghai and its people. Many of the authors write in this melancholy way that was so calming and relaxing which made my reading experience even better.
I’m just going to do a quick rundown of those stories that stood out for me. But bearing in mind, all stories were fantastic.
Ah Fangs Lamp by Wang Anyi
Ah Fangs Lamp by Wang Anyi. This was a short story about an unknown narrator who walks daily past Ah Fangs fruit and vegetable stall. Outside her door she hangs her lamp. This for me was the perfect beginning to the short story collection as it paints the perfect picture of what it would be like walking through the streets of Shanghai. The writing paints a perfect picture of the place the narrator is seeing from their eyes
“This picture of simplicity and harmony often touched me, offering a sense of the power of life in its most ideal form, a glimpse into the secret of life and of living”
I also loved the way the narrator describes how he feels upon seeing Ah Fang and her fruit stall. There was something about it that makes her come across as someone who as a positive aura about her.
“On those miserable drizzly days, those frustrating and anxious days, the sight of Ah Fang, even the dull glow of the lamp by her door, was enough to lift my spirits”
The Bengal Tiger by Xie Shang
This story tells the tale of two fueding families, Chang Jing and Li Dabing. They have been feuding for a very long term which I think stems from Li Dabing demoting Chang Jing from working within Human Resources to being a tiger trainer. Tensions further flair up when Rocky who is Chang Jings son beats up Li Dabing’s son, Chao. This brings both families head first into each other’s past with revelation being revealed that Chang Jing owes the Li Dabing’s family a life.
At first I assumed this was going towards a humorous path but it got a lot darker towards the end.
The Lost by Fu Yuehui
This story was definitely one of my favourites out of the whole bunch. It was a very strange story, but the moral of the story was fantastic in my opinion. It was about a man called Gu Lingzhou who receives a strange unknown call from someone who appears to be lost. On the same day he ends up losing his phone which highlights how reliant we have become on technology. Especially mobile phones. In one part Gu Lingzhou points out that it’s not about the phone itself, it’s about the information we have on this wee object that has so much power over us.
We’ve got to the point that our phones are the only way to keep in touch with people.
“With his phone restored, he would allow himself to turn on his computer, log into his email, Fetion, MSN, and QQ, and reconnect with the world outside”
Also, from my own interpretation, we have all these “contacts” on our phone but would they even realise if one day we just disappeared? The main character expects to have a slew of calls and texts when he eventually gains his phone back. But he is surprised to see that this isn’t the case
“…But it had all been in his head. From his phone to his computer, the lines were all so silent. His world was genuinely silent”
I was definitely glued to this story as it had elements of fantasy and maybe magical realism. Kind of reminded me of Haruki Murakami novels.
The Story of Ah Ming by Wang Zhanhei
This was another fantastic short story that to me highlights how we treat the older generation. I felt a lot of sadness because as I’ve noticed that the older generation are often neglected or shamed.
The story focuses on Ah-Ming an old lady who begins to collect materials such as bottles, cans, and many more items. Even though she doesn’t have to, she does this to make extra cash. Her days begin to involve rummaging through people’s trash and then trades the materials for cash.
However, things soon turn for the worst as she begins hoarding things in her garage. This leads to her gaining a bad reputation among the neighbourhood. She is basically ridiculed for what she is doing and people begin questioning her mental health.
Overall, I absolutely loved this collection of short stories. Each one was engaging and took me to the heart of Shanghai. I feel if you love translated novels and novels set in south east Asia then you’ll definitely love this.
Thank you so much to Comma Press and Zoe for sending me an ebook copy. If you didn’t know already, Comma Press are basically a not-for-profit publisher that focus and specialise in the short stories and fiction in translation. Definitely show your support by checking out their releases. Link below to their website.