Xue Yiwei's Shenzheners, by Linda Leith


Author Xue Yiwei

What appeals most to me about Shenzheners  is its compassionate view of its people and the access it provides its readers into their hearts and minds. These are people identified simply—they’re referred to not by name but as the country girl, for example, the physics teacher, the big sister and the little sister. This distances us from them just a little--just enough for us to be able see them whole—while allowing us to feel for them in their trials, their loves, and their sorrows, as we feel for the individuals we know best in our own daily lives.

This mix of distance and proximity is what makes Shenzheners  a great book, a view from afar—especially for those of us who live far from Shenzhen—that’s at the same time intimate and compelling. Darryl Sterk’s English translation is both colloquial and familiar, but also reserved, too, off to one side, where it can provide a wide view of individual lives through gesture, expression, detail, and exactly the right word.

The look of the book is the first sign that this is a work that’s both foreign—foreign to us all, no matter what our nationality—and inviting. How not to love the warm and appealing illustrations by Chinese artist Cai Gao, both on the front cover and inside, at the start of each story. The green and red colour combination in the cover design is not only beautiful but also intriguing, even surprising.

The biggest surprise is the lettering. "Shenzheners" is a long word, which means we would have to use small lettering to fit the whole word across the front cover. Knowing how Yiwei is inspired by James Joyce, I sought inspiration in the covers of various editions of his remarkable collection of stories, Dubliners. One or two of these break the word up into three different lines--DUB, LIN, and ERS--so that’s what our designer Debbie Geltner did with SHEN ZHEN ERS, making the word and the people of Shenzhen unfamiliar even to those who are most familiar with them, allowing us all to see them anew.

And this is why we’re reading Shenzheners, here in Montreal. To learn something about what we think we already know. To discover what we knew all along about people we never gave too much thought to, until now. To see how the small gesture and exactly the right word can help us understand the world we share with the big sister, the little sister, and the peddler. To see anew. And just for the pleasure of it.
 

© 2016, Linda Leith


LLP Publisher Linda Leith
[Photo: David Boullata]

 

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A Feasibility Study, by Linda Leith


Caterina Edwards's literary noir The Sicilian Wife was published by LLP in Spring 2015.

In September 2014, LLP embarked on a process that has led, one year later, to the decision to publish books in French as well as English.

The first step was a grant application to the Canada Council, in which we made a committment to disseminate the results of the process. This three-part article was submitted in slightly different form to the agency in September 2015 as part of our final report to the Leadership for Change program. 

This is Part III of a three-part text, The Decision to Publish in French

Part I is here; Part II is here.

The courage to speak truth against the lies of tyrants

I have to speak for the generations who don’t have any way to speak out. Before they speak out the first sentence, they are crushed. I also have to speak out for the people around me who are afraid… So I want to set an example: You can do it. And this is OK, to speak out.  -- Ai Weiwei

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