“Three Sisters” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Bi Feiyu (translation by Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-chun Lin) should be on the market in Albuquerque bookstores by August, according to the publisher’s schedule.
On the surface the novel seems to reiterate the themes of Like Dai Sijie’s “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress,” Arthur Golden’s “Memoirs of a Geisha,” and J.G. Ballard’s “Empire of the Sun” (motion picture rights available?).
In its promotional material, “Three Sisters” promises to immerse readers in a culture we think we know but will understand much more fully by the time we reach the end of the book. To the Examiner, it sounds terribly familiar, a long plodding way to trod.
The translation doesn’t give much of a literary voice to the story. Take this excerpt provided by the publisher:
“After the Spring Festival, Wang Lianfang had one more thing to do, and he sought help every time he went to a meeting—Yumi needed a husband. As the girl got older, it became less and less feasible for her to stay in the village. Though anxiety weighed on him, Wang told himself that his daughter must not become just anyone’s wife. Marrying beneath her station would not serve her well; but more important, this would make her parents lose face. Wang hoped to find a match with a young man from an official’s family, one that was naturally powerful and influential. Each time he found a suitable match in a neighboring village, he told Guifang to talk to Yumi, who reacted with bland indifference. Wang could sense that with a father like him, Yumi, a proud and clever girl, had little faith in any man from an official’s family. In the end, it was Secretary Peng from Peng Family Village who suggested the third son of a barrel maker in his village, which nearly ended the conversation, for Wang knew that the “third son” of a “barrel maker” could not possibly amount to much.
“He’s the young man who qualified as an aviator a couple of years ago. There are only four in the county,” Secretary Peng explained. Wang bit down on his lip and made a sucking sound, for that changed everything. With an aviator for a son-in-law it would be as if he himself had flown in an airplane, and whenever he took a pee it would be like a day’s rain. So he handed Yumi’s picture to Peng, who took one look and said, “She’s a real beauty.”
“Actually, the prettiest one is my third daughter,” Wang replied, which elicited a silent laugh from Peng.
“Your third daughter is too young.”
“The barrel maker’s third son sent a response.”
A previous work, Bi’s “Moon Opera” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) was praised in 2009 by the Los Angeles Times, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and other publications.
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