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Braised Pork, by An Yu.

February 11, 2020

Braised Pork
Braised Pork, by An Yu.  Grove Atlantic, 2020.


4 stars

An unusual novel by a Chinese woman about a young widow who journeys to Tibet and magical realms trying to understand a strange symbol which her husband left at his death.

An Yu was born in China and lived there before coming to the United Stated for college.  She earned her M.F. A. at New York University and also studied in Paris before returning to Beijing.  Her short stories have been well received. She is 26 and this is her first novel.

When Jia Jai’s husband drowns in the bathtub, he leaves a drawing of a strange creature with the body of a fish and the head of a man.  At loose ends after his death, she begins a quest to learn about the image.  Her quest takes her to a small Tibetan village and into magical realms and finally back to Beijing.

Yu’s writing is simple, precise, and polished.  Her characters are detached from their lives in Beijing and minimally developed.   China is present as the background, but is seldom important to the narrative. What matters in the book is Jia Jia’s journey as she moves both physically and inwardly, trying to ground herself.  In Tibet she hears stories and begins to make connections with others, including family members.  She also is taken into the unearthly “world of water,” a world both exhilarating and terrifying.   Her visits into that world are mysterious and inexplicable, perhaps magical or descents into the subconscious.  In the end she learns about herself and her parents. She returns to Beijing where her former lover awaits her and her estranged father cooks her favorite food, braised pork.   Rational explanations of her experiences never are articulated to her or readers—at least not to this reader—yet  in the end she is ready to move on.

Braised Pork successfully combines a narrative of the rather mundane life in Beijing and in a Tibetan village with an account of dramatic action occurring at a different level.  I strongly recommend this book to readers looking for something simple, yet unique.

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 11, 2020 2:48 pm

    i read a review of this somewhere recently but it wasn’t as clear as your commentary

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