While I have read this book in its original language – Chinese – I have found a English translation selling at Amazon.com. It is refreshing to read the work of a China writer in Traditional Chinese because given my very limited exposure to Simplified Chinese, my reading appetite is often confined to either authors from Hong Kong or Taiwan.
During this brief period of my renewed interest in reading in my first language, I have realized and begun to internalize the subtle differences in the choice of words and phrases amongst these three different locations – China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. In terms of language readability, of course reading works of a Hong Kong writer has always been a breeze to me. Since I was born there. Interestingly, I often have this impression that Taiwanese books are easier to read compares to books from China. But it doesn’t appear so. Perhaps it is because modern Chinese does not deviate too much from the not-so-modern Chinese that I have spent many years learning in school.
Tie Ning (鐵凝), the author of this book, has come with a long list of credential. She is the current president of the Chinese Writers Association, the first woman taking on that post. She has published close to 60 books, some of her works are translated into multiple languages, and some of her works have won awards.
The Chinese version of “How Long Is Forever (2007)” comprises of two novellas 《對面》,《永遠有多遠》 and four novelettes 《孕婦和牛》,《馬路動作》,《玛克力手印》,《暈厥羊》 (Note: ‘novella’ and ‘novelette’ are borrowed terms to describe the relative length of the story and not the actual word count as defined given the fact that these terms are used to measure English literature, not Chinese). The English version (2009) seems to have the two novellas – “How Long Is Forever” and “Woman Opposite” – and not the rest.
I would describe Tie Ning as a realism writer. Her characters and stories come alive through the day-to-day routines at the minute detail – intriguing, not mundane. To borrow one of the critics’ observations from the book’s appendix, in our recent time, it is rare to see someone writing about the good people. Not perfect, but good. Like the narrator’s cousin in the novella “How Long Is Forever” who has endured and taken advantage by her ailing grandma, her boyfriends who needed a place to stay, and her own brother. In the eyes of others, she has always lost out. But all she does is to always think of others before herself. Or like the pregnant woman in the novelette “Pregnant Woman And Her Cow”. The main character is worry free, often take her cow for a walk. One day she passes by a collapsed pillar that is of heritage value to the village. The stones are engraved with words but she is illiterate, so is her husband and her husband’s family. What if her child in the future asks her the meaning of these words? Quickly she borrowed a pen and a piece of paper from a group of students nearby and started – first time in her life – to write. And she intends to consult the wise people of the village later. Such determination! Tie Ning’s work is almost like a celebration of the not-too-perfect lives of the common people without dwelling into death, depression, desperation, delusion, and evil deeds – themes that could be more popular in today’s world.
In the preface penned by Tie Ning, she wrote that to her, ‘novelettes’ are like scenery. ‘Novella’, on the other hand, are like stories. And ‘novels’ are destinies. I am certainly looking forward to reading the next book of hers. Perhaps a novel for a change.
PS. Why would Singapore library classifies this book under romance? I have no clue.