THE BOOK REVIEW PRESS, 5th June, 2017
By Senno Takumasa
Translated by Noriko Kobayashi
Slapstick comedy is a deformed drama but I assure this book truly depict China as it is.
The pleasure of reading overseas books and encounter the latest literature of those countries filled with innovative experiences and profound thoughts is one thing. Being able to look into the sensitivities of common people’s lives and their inner sensibilities is also very pleasant. If you are looking for the latter joy, I think Liu Zhenyun is the number one writer in that genre. Since “Tofu”translated by Iguchi Akira in 1991 which brought him fame, his writing style does not change. Rather, his stories become more and more slapstick with full of jokes and satires. The previous book “The Cook, the Crook, and the Real Estate Tycoon”(It was made into a film by director Ma Liwen in 2007) depicted a tragic comedy of a man, by accident, gained a USB memory while he was searching for a thief who stole his bag with all his possession. A visual, a VIP was groping, was in USB and because of that, gangster, mafia and police ran after the man. “I Did Not Kill My Husband” is a story of a big loud bang between a village woman obsessed to hold trial and politicians who are entangled in her obsession.
The book starts when village woman Li Xuelian visited province juror saying that she wants to sue her ex-husband Qin Yuhe. Her story was complicated. She became pregnant and decided to have her second child but that will cause her husband to lose job. So the couple decided to go for disguised divorce. But when she born a baby and returned home, she only found that her husband already quickly married with another woman. In order to regain her honor, she insisted that she needs to remarry him and then, divorces again.
The juror accepted her appeal but they could not do anything as she had already legally divorced. So Li Xuelian visitde exclusive committee member of higher court but was tactfully kicked out. She appealed to higher authorities such as presiding judge and province head but they all drove her away and finally, a mayor put her in a police cell. She then visited her ex-husband wanting to hear at least words of apology from him. It ended up him saying in front of the public that she was not virgin and that, she was accused as a nymphomaniac-of-all-the- time.
She could not live with such a slight. So Li Xuelian went to Beijing to prove her innocence and to appeal. She successfully slip into Great Hall of the People where National People’s Congress was held but was caught instantly. However, unexpected adverse spread was waiting for her. A leader who heard her story introduced it in his lecture as a symbolic example of local political corruption that brought a village woman into the present situation by interrupting her appeal. Thanks to his speech, all the jurors and officers related to Li Xuelian’s appeal were fired.
Since then, Li Xuelian kept suing ex-husband every year. They were never been accepted but Province officers were filled with fear. After 20 years, she suddenly declared that she will not appeal again. This created another noise. What will Li Xuelian do? Will she going to Beijing again for direct appeal? Officers asked probing questions but she never answered. The noise became bigger and watch keepers were sent to her. Li Xuelian got angry, decided to appeal again and then disappeared. Where had she gone? However hard they tried, they could not find her around her home town. At the end, province, city and police decided to pursue her for North. When they finally found Li Xuelian in Beijing, a surprising ending was waiting for us to know.
The slapstick drama in the book is obviously deformed. This incident did not actually happened. However, the book is filled with scenes that Chinese people will involuntary tap one’s knee and cheer saying “That’s right”, grin and smile. In that respect, the book depict real China as it is and invites laughs and tears of readers.
Add to it, as this slapstick story drills inside China, the novel draws diverse thoughts. For example, when we Japanese say “China”, what China are we indicating? Are we thinking of aspects shown in news media and press? Or images we encounter during our sightseeing or business trip? Inside our brain, together with their economic growth, aren’t images of Xi Jinping and government with socialism and communism are widely occupying?
That is one aspect of China but not all the people in China unconditionally support Xi Jinping and government. They say “When policy is in above, a counter-measure is in its under”. With inconveniences and complaints, common people live sturdy. Authority keep holding iron fist while paying careful attention to common people’s responses. We never should think that we know China just watching orders of political power, diplomatic and military affair trend, or seeing numerous high-rise buildings and shopping sprees Images of China come from such information may only be one distorted end of China. Outside that, China widely expand where people, like characters in the book, live their lives crying, laughing, feeling sad and feeling mad. There, there are no partners for us to have “strategic reciprocal relationship”, but live life-sized people we should hold hands with.
The book was made into film by director Feng Xiaogang and gained public attention. English title is “I Am Not Madam Bovary”. If protagonist Jinlian of The Golden Lotus is madam Bovary, who will it be in that place in Japan.
The article was published in THE BOOK REVIEW PRESS，2017-6-5.