Qiu Xiaolong, Doctor Zhivago (2010)

Finding a book by Qiu Xiaolong that I’d never heard of is always a treat, however short it is. This one is actually a novella, a mere 30 pages long, translated into French as “Mr. Ma’s good fortune”. This is quite ironic of course, because poor Mr. Ma is sentenced in 1962 to 30 years in jail for counter-revolutionary crimes.

His small Shanghai neighborhood of the Red Dust Lane is astonished: Mr. Ma and his wife seemed harmless enough, hardly making a living out of their tiny bookshop. But the Party is always right, and the neighbors know better than to meddle in Mr. Ma’s misfortune, all the more as asking questions might be dangerous and attract unwanted attention.

As Mr. Ma is released in 1982, ten years ahead of the jail sentence term, the neighbors learn that it was a suspicious foreign book, Doctor Zhivago, that caused his detention. Will Mr. Ma re-open his bookshop? No, Mr. Ma launches into a new venture, that proves surprisingly successful, and may or may not be related to his love for literature…

The novella was a lot of fun. I read on Qiu Xiaolong’s website that a whole collection of short stories happening in the Shanghai Red Dust Lane will be soon released in English, after being published as a serial in a French newspaper (I missed that, obviously).

But before I rejoiced, I had a moment or two of complete frustration. The reason for this bout of fury? (I bet you wouldn’t think that I was such a furious creature). Just look at the French cover art. A quaint little bookshop with a bright red flag over it… A single yellow star… Doesn’t it strike a bell?

This is NOT the Chinese flag (that has one big star in the corner and 4 little ones around). This is Vietnam’s, you idiot of a publisher… ! (Further far less respectful terms of adress are repressed here, just because it’s after Christmas and peace to the world). Was it that difficult to find the picture of a Chinese bookshop?? (if the color of the flag wasn’t flagrant enough, there’s also romanized Vietnamese written above the shop instead of ideograms…) I wonder how this blunder could go unchecked during the whole process. Sigh…

Let’s at least be grateful that Qiu Xiaolong has found faithful readers over here, and let’s hope that his publishers will be more careful next time…

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