‘Red Leaves’ by Can Xue, Translated by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping

I kept finding myself falling into ruts with music and starting to become nostalgic so this year I’ve tried every morning to find something brand new to listen to. I’ve collected these in a long playlist for those who are interested. The process has restored not just my curiosity but a passion for music that was probably waning since I was a teenager. It’s quite a welcome surprise to still be able to be surprised. 
Reading Can Xue, I have a similar feeling. Initially, I was drawn to her because of her background; her parents were persecuted by the Communist party in China during the Cultural Revolution (a lot of my favourite writers come from societies that have suffered through conflict, division and tyranny, Han Kang for instance, and I’m interested in how those experiences resonate with and differ from the experiences of people I grew up with). It was only this year that I fully realised the extent of her brilliance (and the brilliance of other sharp imaginative writers like Lesley Nneka Arimah and Camilla Grudova). My father died of Covid-19 after a brutal six month battle with the illness on a ventilator in ICU. Spending the last few nights of his life with him, I found there was no rational way of recording what was happening given how surreal yet hyperreal it was. All logical attempts were completely inadequate. It was hallucinatory, and trying to frame it in any kind of structure, with any trite kind of lesson, would betray the depths of what he, and we, went through. Can Xue knows that there are realities below our reality, the world of health and sanity and safety, and reminds us that the ice might be thinner than we think. 

First published in translation in Vertical Motion, Open Letter Books, 2011. Available to read at Belletristrahere

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