Two of the people I love most in the world are in China right now, so I decided to read a Chinese short story for Short Story Monday hosted at The Book Mine Set.
I read Watermelon Boats by Su Tong, translated by Eric Abrahamsen.
This story seems to be a simple one about a tragedy that strikes when farmers row their wares down the river to sell them in a city. It turns out, however, that this short story is thematically very rich. These few pages are chock-a-block with characters and action, but it is easy to keep up.
The main theme seems to be friction between groups of people, whether urban and rural, client and vendor, lazy and active, or the different classes, everyone seems to be in conflict with everyone else. It touches on quite a few touchy subjects as well, from capital punishment, young offenders, filial relationships (especially in the Confucianist strain), vigilantism, workplace relations, and others. I am amazed at how much the author packs in.
That doesn't mean it's heavy reading, by any means. It's not a happy story, but each character is sympathetic in his or her turn. On one hand we sympathize with the watermelon buyer and mother of the murderer, and on the other with the mob who is enraged to find the woman who raised the boy who killed their beloved friend or brother to be laying in bed eating crackers when none of them have beds of that calibre.
I didn't think I recognized the name of the author, but it turns out he is the man who wrote the book Wives and Concubines which was adapted into the amazing film Raise the Red Lantern (CAN, US). He has a few other books available in English, and I am very interested in reading them, especially The Boat To Redemption (CAN, JP, US), which was the 2009 Man Asian Literary Prize winner, and seems to be thematically similar to this lovely short work.