Sunday, October 1, 2017

Happy release: Happy Dreams by Jia Pingwa

Happy Dreams
by Jia Pingwa
Nicky Harman (Translation)
-Literary, China
Release date: October 1, 2017
Amazon | Goodreads | Website

From one of China’s foremost authors, Jia Pingwa’s Happy Dreams is a powerful depiction of life in industrializing contemporary China, in all its humor and pathos, as seen through the eyes of Happy Liu, a charming and clever rural laborer who leaves his home for the gritty, harsh streets of Xi’an in search of better life.

After a disastrous end to a relationship, Hawa “Happy” Liu embarks on a quest to find the recipient of his donated kidney and a life that lives up to his self-given moniker. Traveling from his rural home in Freshwind to the city of Xi’an, Happy brings only an eternally positive attitude, his devoted best friend Wufu, and a pair of high-heeled women’s shoes he hopes to fill with the love of his life.

In Xi’an, Happy and Wufu find jobs as trash pickers sorting through the city’s filth, but Happy refuses to be deterred by inauspicious beginnings. In his eyes, dusty birds become phoenixes, the streets become rivers, and life is what you make of it. When he meets the beautiful Yichun, he imagines she is the one to fill the shoes and his Cinderella-esque dream. But when the harsh city conditions and the crush of societal inequalities take the life of his friend and shake Happy to his soul, he’ll need more than just his unrelenting optimism to hold on to the belief that something better is possible.

Excerpt: from Chapter One

“Happy Liu.”
“It says ‘Hawa Liu’ on your ID card. What’s with this ‘Happy Liu’?”
“I changed my name. Everyone calls me Happy Liu now.”
"‘Happy’ are you, Hawa Liu?”
“You must call me Happy Liu, comrade!”
“Happy Liu!”
“Yes, sir!”
“Know why I’m handcuffing you?”
“Because I had my buddy’s corpse with me?”
“I shouldn’t have been at the station with Wufu on my back.”
“Well, if you know that, why did you do it?”
“He needed to go home.”
“Freshwind Township, Shangzhou District.”
“I’m asking about you!”
“Right here.”
“Well, I should be from Xi’an.”
“Tell the truth!”
“I am telling the truth.”
“Then what do you mean by ‘should be’?”
“I really should be, comrade, because...”

It was October 13, 2000, and we were standing on the east side of Xi’an Station Square, outside the barriers. The policeman was taking a statement from me. The wind was blowing hard, and leaves floated down from the gingkos, catalpa, and plane trees around the edge of the square, covering everything with brilliant reds and yellows.

The thing I most regret about that day is not the bottle of taibai liquor, but the white rooster. Freshwind folk believe the spirit of someone who dies away from home has to make its way back. In case the spirit gets lost, you tie a white rooster to the body to guide it. The rooster I bought was supposed to help Wufu’s spirit get home, but in the end, the bird messed up everything. It weighed two and a half pounds at the very most, but the woman insisted it was three pounds. I lost my temper.

“Bullshit! No way is that three pounds! I can always tell how much something weighs! Do you know what I want it for?” (Of course I didn’t tell her what I wanted it for.)

But she kept shouting. “Put it on the scales again! Go ahead and put it on the scales again!” So then the policeman trotted over to sort out the argument.

And he saw the bedroll tied with rope. “What’s that?” He jabbed it with his baton. Lively Shi went as pale as if he’d smacked his face in a sack of ash. Then the stupid fucker opened his big mouth and said it was a side of pork, of all things.

“Pork? You wrap pork up in a quilt?” said the policeman. He carried on poking, and the corner of the bedroll came undone. That was when that coward Lively showed his true colors. He dropped the taibai bottle and took off. The policeman immediately pounced on me and handcuffed one of my wrists to the flagpole.

“Would you be so good as to handcuff my left wrist instead?” I asked with a smile. I’d pulled a muscle in my right arm digging the trench.

This time, the baton jabbed me in the crotch. “Don’t joke around!”

So I didn’t joke around.

Everything looked blurred, as if my eyes were gummed up with boogers. But I told myself to stay calm. The ink wouldn’t come out of the policeman’s pen, and he kept shaking it. The patch of pimples on his forehead flamed red. I tried to put my foot on a drifting plane tree leaf but couldn’t reach it. I’d never seen a young man with so many zits. Obviously not married yet and fierce as a young billy goat.

Click. A reporter was taking a photograph.

I took an instant dislike to her. She was done up like a little girl, with bangs down to her eyebrows, though she was clearly well into her thirties. I didn’t notice her at first. When I did, I smoothed my hair, straightened my clothes, and presented my profile so she could take another picture. But the next day in the paper, they used the one where I was bent over as if I was giving a statement, and in front of me was the flower-patterned bedroll tied with rope. One of Wufu’s feet was sticking out, and you could see his yellow rubber shoe stuffed with cotton wadding. Dammit, that picture was no better than a head-on mug shot, enough to make anyone look like a criminal. I have a prominent nose and a well-defined mouth, but she wouldn’t take me in profile, the bitch.

No way did that photo look anything like me!

Once Wufu’s body had been taken to the funeral parlor, they let me go. But I had to go back to the train station to wait for Wufu’s wife, who was coming to deal with the funeral arrangements. The square in front of the station was full of people who’d seen the newspaper, and they pointed at me. “Look! That’s the man who tried to carry a corpse onto the train! Hawa Liu!” I ignored them. Then they shouted, “Shangzhou husk-eater!” That was an insult to Shangzhou folk, so of course I paid even less attention. (Where I come from, the land’s so barren that there’s not enough grain to last year-round. Come springtime, all there is to eat is a ground-up mixture of dried persimmon and toasted rice husks.)

I needed some time to think. Though Wufu’s body had been taken to the funeral parlor, I felt his spirit must still be around here in the square, maybe perched on the traffic lights or sitting on the piles of roast chicken, hard-boiled duck eggs, bread, and bottles of mineral water on the street vendor’s cart. The small of my back felt sore and tired now, and I pushed my hand against it. Then I had another thought: How good a car is depends on its engine, not on its body, right? And like a car’s engine, a kidney is fundamental to a human body, isn’t it? My flesh was from Freshwind, and I was Hawa Liu, but I’d sold my kidney to Xi’an, so that obviously meant I belonged in Xi’an. Yes, Xi’an! I was very satisfied that I’d worked this out. It made me feel sort of lonesome, but proud too. I held my head high and began to stride along. And each step proclaimed, I’m not Hawa Liu. I’m not a Shangzhou husk-eater. I’m Happy Liu from Xi’an. Hap-py Liu!

“Excerpted from “Happy Dreams” by Jia Pingwa. ©2017 by Jia Pingwa. Published by AmazonCrossing October 2017. All Rights Reserved.”

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