While it’s always pleasurable to read a new work from a top literary talent, exploring the deep tracks of their early work can provide some delicate insights. Such is the case “The April 3rd Incident,” a collection of short stories published between 1987 and 1991 by Chinese author Yu Hua (“To Live,” etc.), now available in the United States for the first time.
Written in the aftermath of China’s Cultural Revolution, these seven stories avoid the topic of politics directly, but showcase the violence, loneliness, and fear Yu Hua experienced and witnessed as a young man — themes that would come to dominate his later work.
Soaked in inspiration from experimental writers like Kafka and Borges, the stories in “The April 3rd Incident” provide a welcome insight into a country — and an author — in transition.
His use of absurdism is both delightful and powerful. For example: in “As the North Wind Howled” the narrator is pulled out of bed by a stranger who insists the narrator’s friend is dying — though he roars in protest: “But I don’t have any friends!”
“Death Chronicle,” written in a distant first person, tells the story of a truck driver who faces an impossible moral decision while driving on a blind curve — not once, but twice. When he makes a different decision the second time around, the consequences are nothing he could have imagined.
Two longer stories, “Summer Typhoon” and “The April 3rd Incident,” dive a bit deeper, the first exploring a fateful summer in 1976; the second a narrator keen to uncover a conspiracy which may — or may not — be occurring.
Yu Hua’s early work demonstrates the power of surrealism as a form of protest, as he pushes the boundaries of art and expression.