Dr. Bethune’s Children is the subversive novel that only Xue Yiwei could write.
Xue Yiwei’s life has been marked by that of the Dr. Norman Bethune, who died treating the wounded in wartime China. Like millions of other Chinese growing up since the 1960s, when Mao Zedong’s eulogy to Bethune was required reading in every elementary school, Xue Yiwei was Inspired by the Montreal doctor’s self-sacrifice and his dedication to the Chinese regime. Unlike all his peers, however, Xue Yiwei went to the lengths of moving to Montreal, where he has lived for sixteen years as an expatriate writer acclaimed in China and – until now – unknown in Canada.
Dr. Bethune’s Children tells the stories of the offspring of two ordinary families marked by cataclysms both natural and man-made -- from the Cultural Revolution to the Tiananmen Square massacre, against a backdrop of the international developments that have rocked everyday life from the Cold War to the emergence of the super power that China is today. Though banned in China, Dr. Bethune’s Children is also hailed as a masterpiece. In focusing on the distress and repression that have marked a whole generation, Xue Yiwei unveils the human heart.
Xue Yiwei is an award-winning Chinese-Canadian writer born in Chenzhou and raised in Changsha, in Hunan province. He has a B.Sc. in Computer Science from Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, an M.A. in English Literature from Université de Montréal, and a Ph. D. in Linguistics from Guangdong University of Foreign Studies. He has taught Chinese literature at Shenzhen University and is the author of sixteen books in Chinese, including four novels—Desertion (1989, reissued 2012), Dr. Bethune’s Children (2011), Farewells from a Shadow (2013), and Empty Nest (2014)—and five collections of stories. His first book in translation, Shenzheners (trans. Darryl Sterk) was published by LLP in 2016. The 2017 winner of the Montreal Diversity Literary Award presented by the Montreal Arts Council and Blue Metropolis Foundation, he lives in Montreal.
Translator Darryl Sterk
Darryl Sterk is a Canadian literary translator specializing in fiction in Mandarin Chinese, including Shenzheners (LLP 2016). He teaches translation in the Graduate Program of Translation and Interpretation at National Taiwan University and lives in Taipei.
Xue Yiwei is featured on an AELAQ Inside the Frozen Mammoth podcast with poet Kelly Norah Druker.
Dear Dr. Bethune, I can’t keep on writing, for I can no longer see the words on the screen. Those words are now swimming around like a school of hungry goldfish. I remember the night when we got married, and my wife woke up terrified from a nightmare about her father’s goldfish bowl. She told me that her father was famous for rearing goldfish in her hometown of Tangshan. However, two days before the earthquake, all his fish suddenly died. He called this unfathomable occurrence a “fiasco.”
“He never knew the actual cause of the fiasco,” my wife said sadly, pressing her naked body against mine.
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