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Meet an Author: A Yi and his unflinching portraits of modern China

A Yi

A Yi (real name Ai Guozhu) is “one of the most gifted Chinese authors in recent times,” according to Nobel-nominated poet Bei Dao. His star has been rising in the global literary scene as well: he’s been published in Granta and The Guardian, and A Perfect Crime, his first novel translated into English, was published in June 2015. He is the author of two other novels in Chinese, Now, What Shall I Do Next? and Where Is Spring, and the short story collections Grey Stories and The Bird Saw Me. Before settling down at age 32 to write fiction, A Yi worked as a police officer, secretary, and editor, with a brief stint as editor-in-chief of the edgy literary magazine Chutzpah.

Book available at The Bookworm:

A Perfect Crime (2015)

Events at The Bookworm Beijing:

Friday, March 11, 8 pm: A Celebration of Literature and Ideas: The 10th Bookworm Literary Festival Opening Ceremony, with Bidisha, Robert Drewe, Xiao Meili, Richard Blanco

Sunday, March 13, 6 pm: New Chinese Writing, with Shuang Xuetao, moderated by Eric Abrahamsen

Opening Paragraph of A Perfect Crime

I went to buy glasses today. I reached for a pair of sunglasses first, but the more you try to disguise yourself, the more you stick out, so I chose a pair of normal ones instead. Much better for diverting people’s attention. They’d think I was short-sighted, and short-sighted people seem trustworthy.

A Perfect Crime review, by Laurie O’Donnell

A Perfect Crime

A Yi has not written a crime novel. We know who did the crime. We know what he did. What we cannot understand is why.

A Perfect Crime is China’s heart of darkness. It is the breathing despair and rage that captures the rural poor.

With exceptional control, A Yi gradually reveals the mindscape of the anonymous narrator who commits a motiveless murder and feels no guilt. He sees himself surrounded by pointless activity. “The meaning of life: Boredom. Repetition. Order. Entrapment. Imprisonment.”

We struggle to make sense of the story’s violence as A Yi provides disturbing insights into the psychology behind a murder committed simply to relieve the daily monotony; the existential mind. A Yi draws on his experience as a rural policeman. It is tight, written with an insider’s view of dark motives. It is the voice of senseless cruelty.

Kong Jie does not deserve to be murdered and the narrator deserves our contempt for his act, even if his judgment of society is accurate. A Yi never lets his narrator off the hook; we never lose sight of the fact that the bloody murder of a young girl is a vile crime.

For the narrator explains that he chose Kong Jie precisely because she was the only good person he knew. “Because she was beautiful, kind, clever,” he tells the court. “A pretty vase like her gets smashed? I knew you’d be rushing to express unparalleled anger and emotion.”

A Yi positions the sick crime of the narrator against the sordid bargaining between the narrator’s mother and the mother of Kong Jie, in return for the latter asking the court for clemency.

“The loneliness was like a slaughter,” he thinks. In prison, he cares nothing for losing his freedom. Instead, the weight of time oppresses him just as before. Time is “the dirt always crushed, the waves always crashing, it forced itself into every space, drowned you, dismembered you… There was no resisting it.” He cannot make a human connection at this late stage, even with his mother. “I tried to push my fingers through the small holes of our conversation, but I couldn’t.”

How do you punish a killer who wants to be killed for his crime?

A Yi has crafted a masterful strategy for speaking about his society: the perfect crime.

Praise for A Perfect Crime:

“A terrifying, technically flawless account or moral darkness within the contemporary People’s Republic, by one of mainland China’s most accomplished and promising young novelists.” —Julia Lovell, The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and the Making of China

“A former police officer who writes from experience, A Yi excels in his vivid, sordid portrait of contemporary China. It’s a heartbreaking tale of a rotten, alienated society fuelled by greed — a nation in moral crisis.” —South China Morning Post

“Beijing-based author A Yi’s new novella A Perfect Crime achieves something we haven’t seen in Chinese fiction for a while — a refreshingly non-verbose, verb-driven, first-person narrative of taut tension (reflected brilliantly in Anna Holmwood’s translation). It’s a great contrast to much current Chinese literature, which tends to be overlong and riddled with tangential ramblings and philosophical musings. A Yi has gone the other way: his writing is pared back, short, driven by pace, and very to the point.” —Paul French, Los Angeles Review of Books

A Yi is an author participating at the 2016 Bookworm Literary Festival. To read about other participating authors, please see our Meet an Author series.

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