Book Review: Land of Big Numbers – Te-Ping Chen

by @edent | # # #

Book cover.I’ve had a long-held fascination with China. I took Mandarin at University and, a few years ago, I was lucky enough to go to Beijing. So I was excited to pick up this book of short stories about modern China.

It is a mixed lot of tales about Chinese people both in and outside of China. But, with the exception of a couple of stories – they just fell flat for me.

I found it hard to assess if the stories are intended to be realistic or allegorical. As the author is a journalist, I thought the stories might be grounded in reality – or based on interviews. Instead, they’re an amalgam of possibly-true little slices of life from a perspective you may not have encountered. There’s nothing particularly wrong with them, but there’s only so many times you can read about someone lost and alone in a big city before it gets repetitive.

The final story, “Gubeikou Spirit”, is fantastic. It is a wonderful tale of manipulation, lack of agency, and Kafkaesque bureaucracy. It feels like the author has perfectly captured the dream-logic of a nightmare.

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