Dr. Bethune's Children

Xue Yiwei. Translator Darryl Sterk

September 2017

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.

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What they say

November 17, 2017: Author Xue Yiwei pictured in Taras Grescoe's feature on Dr. Bethune's Children in The New York Times.


Author Xue Yiwei [Photo: The New York Times]
November 3, 2017: Xue Yiwei is on the cover of the 20th anniversay issue of Montreal Review of Books with a great story about his first novel in English, Dr. Bethune's Children, by Anita Anand. The issue launches Monday, Nov 7, 7 p.m. at La Petite Librairie Drawn & Quarterly, 176 Bernard Ouest.

September 8, 2017: The Globe review
"Norman Bethune (1890-1939) left a lopsided legacy. Canadians know of him; in China, Mao immortalized the Canadian physician in words memorized and internalized by millions of schoolchildren. While Shenzheners, Xue Yiwei's first book translated into English, included Canadian settings and characters, it was ultimately about the city to the north of Hong Kong. Dr. Bethune's Children, by contrast, though a Chinese novel – about Bethune's spiritual children, those who came of age during China's Cultural Revolution – is also undeniably Canadian. Xue, who lives in Montreal, writes that this is "a book for China and Canada to read – and read together." Written as a series of digressive letters from the narrator – also living in Montreal – to the doctor's spirit, Dr. Bethune's Children is a novel of ironic wit and deep feeling, marked by a frank sexuality. Too honest, especially on the Tiananmen Square Massacre, Dr. Bethune's Children is banned in mainland China. For now, it is up to Canadians to read this shared legacy – until we can read together."
-- Jade Colbert, The Globe and Mail.
July, 2017: Xue Yiwei is featured on an AELAQ Inside the Frozen Mammoth podcast with poet Kelly Norah Druker.
July 10, 2017: Time Out Beijing interview with LLP author Xue Yiwei, in advance of his Beijing Bookworm appearance Weds July 12, 2017.
Here's an excerpt from the interview:
TimeOut Beijing: There are some comical moments in the book when the Chinese narrator talks to his Canadian neighbours about Chinese history. From your experience living in Canada for the past 15 years, how do you feel Chinese history and culture is perceived in the West?

Xue Yiwei: We are all lost in translation. We are lost in communication. Misunderstanding is part of our history as well as part of our reality. And to a great extent, globalisation is a process that is pushed forward by cultural misunderstanding. There are so many missing parts and misunderstandings in the Western knowledge of Chinese history and culture. Dr. Bethune’s Children is certainly one of them. To get a full picture of China, sense of humour is necessary. Tragedies can also be dark comedies. If you fail to feel this, you won’t understand what is happening in China now. Dr. Bethune’s Children deals with love, loss and life in Chinese history of recent four decades. The comical moments are crucial in this novel.


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