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Cover image for Braised pork
Title:
Braised pork
ISBN:
9780802148711
Edition:
First Grove Atlantic hardcover edition.
Physical Description:
226 pages ; 22 cm
Summary:
"One autumn morning, Jia Jia walks into the bathroom of her lavish Beijing apartment to find her husband dead. One minute she was breakfasting with him and packing for an upcoming trip, the next, she finds him motionless in their bathtub. Like something out of a dream, next to the tub Jia Jia discovers a pencil sketch of a strange watery figure, an image that swims into Jia Jia's mind and won't leave. The mysterious drawing launches Jia Jia on an odyssey across contemporary Beijing, from its high-rise apartments to its hidden bars, as her path crosses some of the people who call the city home, including a jaded bartender who may be able to offer her the kind of love she had long thought impossible. Jia Jia's journey takes her to the high plains of Tibet, and even to a shadowy, watery otherworld, a place she both yearns and fears to go. An atmospheric and cinematic evocation of middle-class urban China, An Yu's Braised Pork explores the intimate strangeness of grief, the indelible mysteries of unseen worlds, and the self-discovery of a newly empowered young woman"--
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Summary

Summary

Beautiful, dreamlike, and utterly intoxicating, Braised Pork is the beguiling debut of an outstandingly talented young writer who is based in China but writes in English

One autumn morning, Jia Jia walks into the bathroom of her lavish Beijing apartment to find her husband dead. One minute she was breakfasting with him and packing for an upcoming trip, the next, she finds him motionless in their half-full bathtub. Like something out of a dream, next to the tub Jia Jia discovers a pencil sketch of a strange watery figure, an image that swims into Jia Jia's mind and won't leave.

The mysterious drawing launches Jia Jia on an odyssey across contemporary Beijing, from its high-rise apartments to its hidden bars, as her path crosses some of the people who call the city home, including a jaded bartender who may be able to offer her the kind of love she had long thought impossible. Unencumbered by a marriage that had constrained her, Jia Jia travels into her past to try to discover things that were left unsaid by the people closest to her. Her journey takes her to the highplains of Tibet, and even to a shadowy, watery otherworld, a place she both yearns and fears to go.

Exquisitely attuned to the complexities of human connection, and an atmospheric and cinematic evocation of middle-class urban China, An Yu's Braised Pork explores the intimate strangeness of grief, the indelible mysteries of unseen worlds, and the energizing self-discovery of a newly empowered young woman.


Author Notes

An Yu was born and raised in Beijing, and left at the age of eighteen to study in New York at NYU. A graduate of the NYU MFA in Creative Writing, she writes her fiction in English. She is twenty-six years old and lives in Beijing. Braised Pork is her first novel.


Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

An's poignant debut tells the story of a young woman trying to find purpose in her life in the wake of disorienting personal tragedy. Shortly after Wu Jia Jia has finished breakfast with her husband, Chen Hang, in their Beijing apartment, she finds him dead in the bath, next to a picture he scrawled of a fish with a man's head. Jia Jia knows the drawing references a cryptic dream her husband once had in Tibet and, under the image's strange influence, she begins to dream of her occasional immersion in a dark and mysterious "world of water." The experience reignites artistic passions of hers that Chen Hang had discouraged, and she embarks on a spiritual odyssey that will include finding a fulfilling relationship with a new lover, reconnecting with her estranged father, and, in a small Tibetan village, experiencing an epiphany that gives her a mystical sense of destiny. An draws Jia Jia with great affection and sympathy as the character grapples with the elusive meaning of her dreams and powerful emotional experiences. Readers will be moved by An's mature meditation on the often inexplicable forces that shape the trajectory of an individual life. (Apr.)


Guardian Review

Weird things keep happening in An Yu's debut novel, Braised Pork. First, a Beijing businessman drowns in a bathtub. Later, a fish tank goes up in flames. Then, a painting opens up a portal to another world. The protagonist, a young woman called Jia Jia, navigates these strange events with a dignified sense of detachment. For readers, though, there's no avoiding the air of unease. Yu's novel is part domestic noir and part esoteric folk myth. It's also a story about a young woman finding her feet in modern metropolitan China. It all makes for a compelling, if perplexing, read. Jia Jia is in her early 30s and married to Chen Hang, a wealthy older man. Their relationship is perfunctory and lacks warmth. It's Chen Hang's lifeless body that Jia Jia finds in the bathtub at the start of the novel. For a fleeting moment, she is puzzled by his crouched pose. "Oh! Lovely, are you trying to wash your hair?" she inquires, before realisation dawns. This unsettling opening sets the tone for the book's prevailing mood of existential bewilderment. As Jia Jia waits blankly for the emergency services, she notices a slip of folded paper on the sink, "opening and closing slightly in the stillness of the bathroom. It was as if the paper were alive." The paper reveals a sketch of a strange creature - the body of a fish on the head of a man. This obscure fish-man figure becomes the novel's motif. The mystery behind it will eventually send Jia Jia from Beijing to Tibet, forcing her to reckon with the secrets of her past and the possibilities of her future. Yu's prose is plain, but her novel is plotted so unpredictably that it accomplishes an almost accidental brilliance - she writes as though she is constantly changing her mind. The opening scene seems to set up a stylishly contemporary Chinese thriller, but then Yu focuses her attention on the widowed Jia Jia as she learns to fend for herself, embarking on a romance with a local barman, Leo. Just as Jia Jia begins to establish her independence, the ground beneath her gives way - literally. One night, she finds that her familiar bedroom has become a watery abyss into which she is helplessly sinking. She wakes the next morning in a heap on the floor. Determined to make sense of this experience, she travels to Tibet in search of the fish-man figure. "To arrive at your future, you must first travel deep into your past," is the publisher's koan-like tagline to the book. The idea of a journey of self-discovery via Tibetan mysticism might raise a sceptic's eyebrow, but Yu makes it meaningful. In Tibet, there are family secrets to uncover and an encounter with an apparently parallel universe. This conjunction ought to jar, but somehow Yu detects a deep resemblance. The arcane folk myths that Jia Jia learns about are as sorrowful and haunting as the memories of childhood that they reawaken. Yu makes Jia Jia a reserved but appealingly vulnerable heroine. There's something appealing, too, about Yu's peculiarly oblique vision: her sense of a world in which realism and surrealism can be superimposed. While it's easy to see that Braised Pork borrows something of Haruki Murakami's brand of strange melancholia, there's a startlingly original imagination of its own at work here. The merit of this book is how fluently it moves between metropolitan Beijing - with its unhappy marriages, hazy polluted air and expensive property market - and a stranger, more hallucinogenic realm of Tibetan myth and folk culture. Neither is more truthful than the other. Rather, together they evoke something of Jia Jia's discombobulated experience of modern Chinese life. Yu stages her agitated psychological state in some magnificently dreamlike set pieces: "Looking down at the floor, she discovered that it did not exist any more, and what replaced it was the surface of a deep sea, as if she was sitting on the edge of a ship watching the reflection of the starless sky in the water. The darkness rippled like silk." There are clunky moments, but this is a sensitive portrait of alienated young womanhood as it is set free from the suffocating constraints of marriage and comes up for air. Dining alone in a restaurant, Jia Jia watches an older couple chatting companionably. It makes her feel her own isolation more keenly. But later on, understanding, fugitive and precious, comes to her. The world might be strange, surreal even, but, as Leo puts it: "Don't you think that sometimes we just need to love in the simplest way possible?"


Kirkus Review

In searching for answers to her husband's untimely death, a young widow in Beijing finds room to explore her own existential angst. Jia Jia is packing for an out-of-town holiday when she finds her husband, Cheng Hang, drowned in the bathtub of their Beijing apartment. It speaks to the quality of their marriage that she immediately feels resentment and disgust bubble up to the surface. "He had never loved her, no, she knew that much. She was not a fool. But they had promised each other a lifelong partnership, held together if not by love, then by their declared intention to have a family. And so as long as he had assured her that he intended to remain married to her, everything else had been forgivable." In the disorienting weeks after her husband's death, Jia Jia is liberated from societal expectations and the crushing isolation of their loveless marriage. She is free to pursue her art and even strikes up a friendship with Leo, a handsome bartender her own age. But an arresting sketch of a "fish-man" that Cheng Hang leaves behind on a pile of towels in the bathroom where he died makes Jia Jia restless. Why did her husband draw this strange creature with the head of a man and the body of a fish? Why does it draw Jia Jia in? Remembering that her husband told her he'd dreamed about this fish-man while he was on a spiritual trip to Tibet about a month earlier, Jia Jia decides to travel there for answers. Yu's original debut spins an increasingly surreal tale which brilliantly mirrors Jia Jia's own discombobulation. The fish-man plotline might not fully submerge the reader in the narrative, but the lush atmosphere and fast-paced story make up for it. Also, Jia Jia's vulnerability makes her easy to root for as she begins to find her footing in the world. Proof positive that rebirths are entirely possible--even in one lifetime. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Booklist Review

Chen Hang is facedown in the bathtub when his wife, Jia Jia, discovers his naked corpse. Married for four years, their intended "lifelong partnership" didn't include love, at least not for each other. After vomiting her "insuppressible resentment and disgust," Jia Jia finds a pencil drawing of a fish with a human head, clearly sketched by Chen Hang. She recalls a middle-of-the-night phone conversation a month ago when Chen Hang called from his solo Tibet trip to tell Jia Jia of a disturbing dream featuring a fish-man. When elements of that dream haunt Jia Jia's slumber, she reclaims her pre-marriage artist identity and attempts to paint the otherworldly fish-man into understanding. Meanwhile, her waking life needs attention, too, including as it does an uncertain affair with a local bartender, possible reconciliation with her runaway father, and unexpected revelations about her late mother. Beijing born-and-raised An Yu, who writes in English, transforms her home city into an affecting backdrop for her first novel as she exposes and confronts the detachment between those meant to be most connected.


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