The Book of Shanghai edited by Jin Li and Dai Congrong [Review]

The book cover for The Book of Shanghai displayed on an iPad with a blue mug filled with tea to the right side.

One of the reasons I enjoy short story collections is because I am introduced to a wide range of writers (and in this case, translators too). This short story collection is brimming with talent.

The stories themselves are atmospheric. Whilst reading, I felt like I was transported to the streets of Shanghai, spending my time soaking in my surroundings and meeting the characters of the city.

The three stories that I think will stick with me the most are: Ah Fang’s Lamp by Wang Anyi (translated by Helen Wang), Woman Dancing Under Stars by Teng Xiaolan (translated by Yu Yan Chen) and The Story of Ah-Ming by Wang Zhanhei (translated by Christipher MacDonald).

Each of these stories breathed life and character into a city I knew relatively little about. 

Themes of loneliness, anonymity and fighting not to disappear among the hustle and bustle of the city stood out most to me from in the collection.

Here’s my favourite quote from the short story Ah Fang’s Lamp, written by Wang Anyi and translated by Helen Wang:

It was just a street I walked through, my life being something that happened at either end. And as far as the street was concerned, I was just a passerby, the different lives inside those different doors were none of my business.

This quote spoke to my experiences of living in a large city and as the first story in the collection, I think it sets the tone for the rest of the anthology nicely.

The Book of Shanghai is an impressive collection of 10 short stories that I think fellow lovers of translated literature will thoroughly enjoy. I rated it four stars on Goodreads.

Thank you to Comma Press for gifting me a copy of this book to review. The Book of Shanghai publishes on the 16th of April 2020 and can be purchased directly from the publisher.

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