Ghost writer

Yu Hua’s lat­est novel has at­tracted crit­i­cism since its re­lease, but the author de­fends his work about lost spir­its, claim­ing it deals with the re­al­i­ties of the mod­ern world. Han Bing­bin re­ports.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at han­bing­bin@chi­

Yu Hua’s lat­est novel, The Sev­enth Day, has at­tracted crit­i­cism since its re­lease, but the author de­fends his work about wan­der­ing spir­its.

Author Yu Hua’s lat­est novel The Sev­enth Day has at­tracted crit­i­cism since its re­lease in June. Many read­ers have de­clared it Yu’s worst novel, eight years af­ter they claimed one of Yu’s most in­flu­en­tial works,

Broth­ers, was the worst of its genre. But the author has de­fended his lat­est book, call­ing it his “clos­est con­tact with re­al­ity”. He has also dubbed it “the most rep­re­sen­ta­tive” of his over­all writ­ing style. Yu says the book is a man­i­fes­ta­tion of all the ele­ments ever fea­tured in his fic­tion from the 1980s to to­day.

The Sev­enth Day, an ab­sur­dist work in­spired by Ge­n­e­sis, is a tale of many deaths. The nar­ra­tive re­volves around dif­fer­ent spir­its’ ex­pe­ri­ences and mem­o­ries in the first seven days af­ter their death, caused by the type of events which have re­cently aroused con­tro­versy in China.

A cou­ple are killed when a house is forcibly de­mol­ished. Un­set­tled spir­its from an ac­ci­den­tal fire wan­der around con­fused. Their deaths have been cov­ered up by the govern­ment and their bod­ies kept away from their fam­i­lies.

Bei­jing News critic Zhang Ding­hao wrote that com­pared with Broth­ers, which dealt with a chang­ing so­ci­ety over the course of decades, Yu’s lat­est retelling of re­cent and widely known so­cial events of­fers no more in­sight than re­post­ing a comment on mi­cro blog weibo.

Not to men­tion the lan­guage is out­moded and plain, Zhang adds.

“Peo­ple can hardly be­lieve it’s the re­sult of seven years of work. It’s more like In­ter­net fast food, rushed in a cou­ple of days,” Zhang writes.

Zhang, like many oth­ers, deems Yu’s lat­est work an ex­am­ple of read­er­ship po­si­tion­ing — the author is try­ing to ap­peal to for­eign­ers, given his grow­ing in­flu­ence over­seas af­ter pub­lish­ing books in more than 20 coun­tries.

Trans­la­tion will cover and may even im­prove the rough lan­guage that Chi­nese read­ers may find unin­spir­ing, Zhang notes, and the so­cial events lo­cal read­ers may find dated will “put on a su­per-re­al­is­tic magic coat” over­seas.

Tech­ni­cal prob­lems aside, Yu’s rec­ol­lec­tion of so­cial events, in the opin­ion of crit­ics, are frag­men­tary and su­per­fi­cial in the first place.

Ren­min Univer­sity’s lit­er­a­ture pro­fes­sor Yang Qingx­i­ang writes in Bei­jing News that in a time when ev­ery­one is a sto­ry­teller on weibo, a good nov­el­ist must dis­tin­guish him­self by writ­ing com­plex works.

In this in­stance, Yu has only scratched the sur­face of the sto­ries and char­ac­ters, Yang adds.

“The novel lacks a spir­i­tual link. It’s not like a novel but rather a sim­ple col­lec­tion of un­re­lated short sto­ries. The char­ac­ters are flat. All of them are like unim­por­tant passers-by, un­able to con­nect with your heart,” he writes.

Pre­pared for crit­i­cism, Yu says he will not look at re­views un­til the talk about the book cools and com­ments be­come ra­tio­nal.

Still, in a press re­lease from the pub­lish­ing team, Yu briefly de­fended him­self, say­ing he didn’t have to copy the daily news cy­cle be­cause th­ese is­sues have ex­isted long enough to be­come part of our lives.

“It’s best for me to present th­ese ab­surd things all at once. I won’t fo­cus on one event like I did with Chron­i­cle of A Blood

Mer­chant. In that book, blood sell­ing ap­pears for only four times. I mainly write about their lives, which is what in­ter­ests me. Blood sell­ing is only a pre­text,” he says.

He’s sur­prised, how­ever, at how harshly the lan­guage of The Sev­enth Day has been crit­i­cized, given the fact that he has re­fined it nu­mer­ous times.

“I’m nar­rat­ing from the per­spec­tive of a dead man. The lan­guage should be re­strained and cold. For the parts in the liv­ing world, I add some warmth. The lan­guage of a novel is not a ran­dom choice. It’s de­cided by the na­ture of the novel it­self,” he says.

The pow­er­less­ness in the lan­guage is an artis­tic re­flec­tion of the sense many

When the real world de­presses you, I write down a beau­ti­ful dead world. This world is nei­ther a Utopia nor a won­der­land. But it’s beau­ti­ful.”




peo­ple have of feel­ing weak and help­less, says Fu­dan Univer­sity’s Chi­nese lit­er­a­ture pro­fes­sor Zhang Xinying.

“He tells the sto­ries through a dead man. I think the des­per­a­tion ex­pressed in this way is even more pro­found,” he says.

Peking Univer­sity’s Chi­nese pro­fes­sor Chen Xiaom­ing says Yu’s writ­ing is valu­able be­cause he con­trasts the des­per­a­tion caused by so­cial re­al­ity, am­pli­fy­ing the value of moral prin­ci­ples and love.

“I feel the cru­el­ness of re­al­ity and I write equally cru­elly, so I need the warmth. I need the kind part to give my­self and the read­ers hope,” Yu says.

Even in The Sev­enth Day that starts and ends with death, that can seem un­re­lent­ingly bleak, Yu has still cre­ated warmth.

It’s the undis­turbed re­la­tion­ship be­tween the pro­tag­o­nist and his adop­tive fa­ther, the self­less love of a young man who died af­ter sell­ing his only kid­ney to buy his dead girl­friend a tomb, and more im­por­tantly, the sym­pa­thy and af­fec­tion the un­set­tled spir­its show each other when they gather at the “land for the un­buried”, a place of peace and beauty.

“When I wrote the novel, I had a strong be­lief that I was writ­ing about the real world as an in­verted re­flec­tion. My fo­cus is not the real world. It’s the world of the dead,” Yu says. “When the real world de­presses you, I write down a beau­ti­ful dead world. This world is nei­ther a Utopia nor a won­der­land. But it’s beau­ti­ful.”

In this place, just as Yu writes at the end of the novel, “leaves wave to you, stones smile at you, the river greets you. No poor, no rich, no sor­row, no pain ... ev­ery­one dies equal”.


Author Yu Hua is pre­pared for crit­i­cism of his lat­est novel The Sev­enth Day and says he will not look at re­views un­til the com­ments be­come ra­tio­nal.

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