Lucky for me someone in one of my groups nominated this and I seconded it although I’d never heard of it before. I like literature from foreign countries, especially translated fiction, because it’s more likely to expand my cultural horizons with new thoughts and ideas of all kinds from setting and historical points of view to cultural ways and philosophical underpinnings.
And in some ways it was the perfect story for Halloween – short, strange and with a bit of a spooky.
The Invisibility Cloak
by Ge Fei / translated by Canaan Morse
2016 (English)/ 144 pages
Rating: 9 / contemp Chinese fiction
The Invisibility Cloak did all of this and more because it’s light and surreal in its own way. The author has been called a leading writer of “experimental fiction.” This is possibly due to the abundance of trade names and foreign countries and perhaps the way coincidence and superstition play into the whole. I need to point out here that it’s really quite funny in its own subtle way. .
Our first-person narrator, named only in the last few pages as Mr Cui. is a lowly and middle-aged but highly skilled audio technician. He helps his clients get the best sound possible for their money and their music. He’s divorced and childless with financial and personal problems, your common contemporary urban working man/laborer.
The audio systems, their components and the other materials he works with come from all over the world as does the music, both modern and historic. His fairly rich friend Jiang Songping and wife enable our hero’s business to struggle along by having Sonping’s CD music played on Ciui’s best system when they have parties for their rich friends and family. The guests then place expensive orders. Our hero meets a couple of very strange and possibly dangerous people this way.
He also has family problems. His father died disappointed in his own life/career and his mother died a few years later. Now his sister, her possibly abusive husband and our hero live in the same small place, his sister’s, in a Beijing neighborhood (hutong) This was the place of their youth and our hero has memories.
The narrator sketches out his life including the terror of the 1976 earthquakes. I think there might be some drugs around at one point, but only because of a single possible mention.
One day he meets a new client, a lead from Songping, who is stranger than usual and comes with a warning. There is so much in this book it’s hard to believe it’s only 144 pages.
The best part about this book is the setting – it’s totally contemporary and yet very Chinese with capitalism, of the Party variety, in full swing right alongside the superstitions of the old people and traditional marriage requirements. Wonderful.