Everyone wants to be Eileen Chang

So do I.

Except I don't want to die alone in an apartment somewhere in LA. A recluse - my body found only days later.

Zhang Ai Ling - I prefer her Chinese name instead og Eileen Chang - was nothing less than a literary phenomenon. Despite the fact that most of her works were written only within a short span of 3-5 years in her late 20s-30s, and came to a virtual stop once she moved to America, her works continued to be printed and discussed - and she continues to be pursued, possessed and resurrected by her fans in coffee table books, literary criticism, short films, paintings, poems...

I guess she was like the Haruki Murakami of Chinese writing - and more. She was part-real, part-myth. Her life had all the promises of a grand drama, but she escaped them or simply passed them over, diffused them in the quiet melodrama of her fiction (which lend themselves well to film - Stanley Kwan's Red Rose White Rose, Ann Hui's Eighteen Springs and Love in a Fallen City). But it is her essays that I admire and enjoy most.

In the essays, what is attractive about Zhang Ailing's voice can be most clearly seen/heard - ambivalence. Like the most talented of essayists, Zhang knew when to stray from a discursive certainty into an anecdote or the trails of a story. And just when you are taken in by the seductive wit and intelligence of her observations, and so light-headed the atmosphere would have become she could have gotten away with being flippant, Zhang would pause, wonder and conclude with a hint of the pathetic, the sorrow, the regret. This woman is sly!

What got me started on Zhang Ai Ling today was a letter from the National Arts Council informing me that my short story didn't win anything at the recent Golden Point competitions. (abaden - the results were already out more than a week ago in the papers! OK, maybe the Arts Council was trying to be thoughtful.) No $ for guessing correctly...it's a story with Zhang Ai Ling in it! Well, I think it's a damn funny story...(although I think only Wheyface has found my stories amusing so far).

*sigh* So much for wanting to be Zhang Ai Ling. I don't think Zhang Ai Ling was ever so shameless as to ask for an audience! But since I am not her, and to make the most of the work that had gone into writing the story...Friends, if you want to read it, I'm more than happy to email it to you.

Out of the race


Anonymous said…
please mail me!

be more than happy to read it.

email me please, and i'll buy you chicken wings for the the rest of our lives...
Anonymous said…
This finally gives me an opportunity to leave my comment on how well written the posts in this blog are.

I would love to read your piece. Pls mail me at kelawar.kilat@gmail.com

ampulets said…
Will send it out to you folks later! :>
monk said…
thanks, amp -- i'll take a copy, too, please.

and i'll second what kelawar said.

fortycalibernap at gmail dot com.
kiat said…
hey, me want one too...
Anonymous said…
eh! i wan oso :)

avalon said…
Does she have her stories translated in English? I am a Murakami fan and if she is that mesmerising, I would love to read her.
ampulets said…
My fault - I used the comparison too freely perhaps! The truth is that her writing is miles apart from Murakami's in terms of style, sensibility... The comparison with Murakami was really in terms of their phenomenal and unexplainable success. Their writing itself seem to stand at opposing poles. Murakami's all earnestness (though I do like his stories, wonderful escapism), but Zhang you cannot never take on surface. She casts a cool eye on her characters - empathetic, even sympathetic, but always critical. Just when you think she was making them victims of history and circumstance, she reveals the cruel comedy of their own actions. Murakami is a joy to read because of his simplicity (there is always the common-man voice who is also the hero), she for her complex voice and her distrust of heroism.

If you are interested, i think she actually wrote 2 novels in English (The Rice Sprout Song, and Naked Earth) after she moved to the US in the 50s. And later re-wrote them in Chinese! She also translated her own work into English, The Golden Cangue. She also translated the works of Emerson. You can probably find these at Kino, some of them published by university presses. I don't recommend the English works! If you can read Chinese, there are many editions of her works in Chinese (also available at Kinokuniya).

You know lah, most English translations of Chinese are very painful to read (the efficiency of the English language is quite at odds with Chinese), and even the stories Zhang writes in English sounds like she is translating them in her head from Chinese.

Sorry, long reply for a short question! ;P
kai said…
i'm glad you explained. When I saw that you said Eileen is like Murakami, I was a bit shocked. As to me, they are totally different. :)
And yes, I think too that translations, esp from chinese to english is not something advisable.
Anonymous said…
oooh could you email me a copy too? :)
comedrinkwithme at gmail dot com

ethan (i dont think you will stop calling me lun, haha)

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