Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Real Darkness

I'm really proud to be publishing a novel by Xiaoda Xiao called The Cave Man. I believe that his voice and his story are incredibly important. Plenty of books feel necessary to me, but this one seems essential.

It was disturbing to see China positioned as the guest of honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair. One good thing that came out of it, though, were the voices of dissent in the press, from writers, and from publishers. (I imagine that if the officials of the fair had any interest other than China as an emerging market, the jist of the event would have focused upon the country's censorship.)

I enjoyed some of the coverage by Publishing Perspectives from the fair, one piece called "Dissidents Have Their Day" and another called "The Red Piano Won't Play in China." The latter is by Australian publisher Andrew Wilkins about a Chinese printer refusing to print his children's book for censorship reasons.

Wilkins says, "Even as I share the excitement of seeing China as this year’s Guest of Honour, I’m also concerned that we have a Guest that still seems interested in censoring not only its own people, but the rest of the world as well when it can."

Publishers Weekly reviewed The Cave Man a month or so back, called it "excellent and moving," and in their most recent issue they've published an interview with Xiao, in which he talks about his own time spent in solitary confinement (for reading banned literature smuggled under the cover of one of Mao's red books), his sentiments toward Chinese prison literature of the '80s, and what he hopes to accomplish with his first novel.

Xiao says: "I hope to make people understand what we went through collectively, the terror in its daily and hourly incarnation. Just like Kafka, you know? It's a danger for us all when a society accepts this as normal. I was arrested and accused of attacking "the great leader's image" in 1971, and they sentenced me to a five-year prison term. I stayed in prison for seven years, five as a prisoner and two more as a laborer. This is what is happening in China right now. This is the real world, the real darkness that I've experienced. Not what they say, or people from the outside see, not the propaganda that's talked about."

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