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December 5th, 2008 at 10:21 am

The Song of Everlasting Sorrow in the Quarterly Conversation

Song of Everlasting Sorrow, Wang AnyiIt would not be a stretch to say that The Quarterly Conversation has come to be one of the better places —online or in print— to turn to for literary and cultural criticism. Issue 14 was recently published and is filled with great stuff, including a podcast interview with Aleksandar Hemon and articles about the relationship between work and writing in the works of William Gaddis, Charles Bukowksi, and others.

There are also several excellent reviews including one of Roberto Bolano’s much discussed 2666 and Wang Anyi’s The Song of Everlasting Sorrow. Gregory McCormick opens the review writing, “The translation into English of Wang Anyi’s 1996 novel, The Song of Everlasting Sorrow, marks an important development in the way most literary Westerners, particularly Americans, view China.” McCormick argues that while Western attention is often focused on writers who have been banned in China, there are superb novelists such as Wang whose work, which has not been banned, have been somewhat ignored in the West.

This is not to suggest that Wang’s work toes the party line. As McCormick argues, Wang Anyi’s novel offers subtle but nonetheless stinging critiques of Chinese society and the Communist Party. McCormick writes:

[Wang's] criticisms are subtle, but they are even-handed, and this allows Wang’s competing visions of a spoiled if hopeful future and a nostalgic if troubled past to gain power and currency: there are tens of millions of readers of her novels (Sorrow in particular). Cultivating a readership remains the most effective way to criticize and challenge the system.

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