The queen of troublemakers, almost like the Kafka of Beijing
Corriere della Sera, 27th January, 2017
By Marco Del Corona
Translated by Omnia Language Solutions S.r.l.
Li Xuelian was married for real but, when she decided to divorce, she wanted to pretend to do so. Or rather: she wanted to do it for real, because there were public officials and stamps and everything else involved; but for feigned intentions, because it would be just a trick. It was not to separate from her husband Qin Yuhe, who had given her a child, but to circumvent the Chinese law on birth control, as she was pregnant for a second time. Too bad that the newly-divorced Qin had decided to find himself another woman, leaving poor Li unwittingly alone. That's why Li became the most famous troublemaker in the county: she wanted to remarry Qin in order to separate for real. By putting things right and restoring the lost order of the world: the truth must really be true and the false must be false.
I Did Not Kill My Husband: A Novel by Liu Zhenyun (Yanjin, 1958), which Maria Gottardo and Monica Morzenti translated for Bompiani with the title Divorzio alla cinese (Chinese divorce in English), is not a novel about the often cruel application of the one-child policy, which inspired books such as Frog by Mo Yan or The Dark Road by Ma Jia. It is about something else. Here we are on the borders between a picaresque novel and a grotesque apologue, because Liu Zhenyun, of whom in 2015 the publishing company Metropoli d'Asia released The Cook, the Crook, and the Real Estate Tycoon with the title Oggetti Smarriti (Lost property in English), invites us to become attached to Li's furious annoyance. For twenty years she has staged protests in Beijing even inside the palace on Tiananmen Square where Parliament gathers: the officials try to block her in every way possible. They even manage to have her seduced by an ancient suitor and discover with fright that their careers are put at risk. Li’s insistence for justice unmasks the Kafkaesque essence of bureaucracy and the inadequacy of the leaders who are concerned only with favours and drinking. As the Chinese chronicles teach, the beseechers who ask for the rectification of the wrongs suffered are a torment for not just local authorities. They escape control. They make the system and the Communist Party lose face. So, in their own small way, they are dangerous, as The Story of Qiu Ju (1992), the film by Zhang Yimou, showed. Irritating and irresistible, Li does not give up; instead she talks to a cow, but does not stop. And that the story closes without Li having satisfaction definitely gives it all a bitter twist: we are not just talking about China in I Did Not Kill My Husband nor about the bureaucracy and nonsense as in Catch-22. Falsification is bad for life. And it is existence, perhaps the whole cosmos, that is bureaucracy.