Tag Archive: Short Story

Hi everyone. Yesterday I published through Creative Commons a petite, small book that combines art with short fables. The book is free and as long as you give credit where it is due, it is ok to share it. If you like slice-of-life stories that discuss gender, atheism, growing up and the chaos of existence, you´ll enjoy my book 🙂

Download either here: https://archive.org/details/vignettes_201707

or here: https://www.scribd.com/document/355190523/A-Book-Vignettes


Take care! Maaretta

Yiyun Li is a Chinese-American writer who has made a name for herself with short story collections and novels. She won an award for her short story collection “A Thousand years of Good prayer” and made her Scandinavian breakthrough with the novel “The Vacurents”. Moving to the US when she was 18 years old, with the intent to continue her studies in science fields, Yiyun Li discovered her love of literature there instead. Ms. Li has stated that a good practice for aspiring writers is to read at least one classic novel per year. And even if this story has no real importance to this blog post, I can´t help but mention this endearing story: when Ms. Li was visiting Stockholm´s International writer’s scene in 2013, she mentioned that while growing up her mother was a complete tiger mum. After explaining to the Swedish audience what this meant, the interviewer asked if she was a tiger mum to her children. Ms. Li replied: “Oh no, I´m too easy going. I´m more of a chicken mum; I let my kids run free and make their own path”.


In “A Thousand years of Good prayers” Yiyun Li casts Chinese people as the majority of her protagonists (and one Mongolian person), a modus operandi in her fiction writing. This ethnicity though is greatly varied, as it is with the lived experience of any group. Some of them are people that live in the more rural sides of China, some have immigrated to the United States (one story features a gay man who has sought out asylum in the US) and some live in the large cities of China. The stories touch on many different issues such as disability, estrange families, the stigma of supposedly having lost ones virginity before marriage, and being disillusioned by corrupt politics. The running theme is Chinese culture, society, the personal and family dynamics. While I enjoyed many of the stories, one stood out to me due to a particularly interesting subject matter. The story “Son” is about a mother-son relationship where the son is an atheist and his mother has just converted to Christianity, and is a bit too enthusiastic about her new found beliefs.


The narration follows the Son´s perspective. It is his thoughts that the reader gets to know intimately, and his loving, but frustrated, feelings towards his elderly, widowed mother.  The son is, on top of their different relations to religious belief, gay and has never come out to his mother. He has always wanted to be more of a dutiful son and not disappoint her. His closeted state related to his sexuality makes sense in the context of growing up in the 1980´s China, as homosexuality was illegal in the country until 1997 and considered a mental illness until 2001. His mother, enmeshed in the societal beliefs of the culture, has grown up with this conservative view on sexuality, and the son deems that his mother would especially condemn him now with added incentive of her new found religion.


While the son hasn’t come out as gay to his mother, he has always been open about being an atheist. When the story begins, Li gives you the sense that this repudiation of religion is accepted by the mother until the advent of her recent conversion. Due to her new found faith, the mother is now quite insistent on converting her son as well, to which he responds more and more angrily as time goes on. While on the surface the son would come off as a stereotypical angry atheist, the story takes a deeper look behind what is fueling his angry reaction towards his mother. While he is trying to be dutiful and kind son, his mother is testing his patience by continually pushing her beliefs on him. On top of this, his mother´s behavior seems more than false to him, since he still holds resentment for her burning his bible when he was twelve years old – something the mother claims the father had forced her into.


By balancing the son’s cynicism with the mothers naivety, the story asks hard moral questions. It is left to the reader to decide whether the mother was at fault for her behavior in her sons tween years, are if she is telling the truth. This antagonism between son and mother, hypocrisy and honesty, is for grounded in a scene where it is revealed that the mother pays two street children that (it is heavily implied) are clearly being exploited by an adult ringleader. The son sees them as cheating his mother, the mother sees possible conversion candidates, and the reader is questioned to regard the moral direction of two adults and their reply to child exploitation. Li shows us both characters motives and asks the reader if this was the right response or not. The reader is placed in a morally grey zone, motivating a consideration of our own beliefs and consequent actions.

hu yongkai

“Mother and son” by Hu Yongkai

Through the son´s point of view the reader also gets to see the story of his first crush at twelve, where he fell for a fellow schoolmate who it seemed returned his affections, but due to the intolerant environment neither one of them really wanted to admit the situation. Through just a few sentences Ms. Li paints a bittersweet tale of childhood wonder and first love, that was trapped in not being able to be confirmed but still cherished.


The son´s atheism and cynicism however are the real star of this story. Usually writers would have these points of views be a straw argument, but the sons skeptical approach is often proven to have legitimacy. He points out that the so-called “catholic” church his mother attends is run by the government, which means that it is more than likely a place where sermon is full of propaganda. He wonders how his mother can easily defend herself for being previously strongly opposed to Christianity, and now strongly for it. He believes that people are feeble about their beliefs, that people are mostly fair weather believers, fickle in what they preach, and hypocritical in their actions, whether it be motivated by religion, culture, or politics. This narration is enjoyable not only because it embodies strong character building, but also because here we have a fair depiction of skepticism which yields a moral grappling with consistent ethical actions. What the son stands for gestates an indeterminate validity, whether we agree or not.


What many atheist feel

“Son” shows us an atheist protagonist who is more than just an atheist, and not one without reason in an irrational world. Plus, his non-belief has only become an issue due to his mothers’ persistence in bringing it up.


Traditional word for “Son” in Mandarin


A fine tale of family and lack of belief. “Son” by Yiyun Li is superb.

(Trigger warning for discussions of poor prison conditions and torture)

It is probable Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie does not need an introduction. She´s the writer everybody reads, she tops all the best seller list, and she´s well loved by book lovers of the world. Her most famous work, “Half of a Yellow Sun”, has been adapted into a film. Her books have won numerous awards and to many, she´s an introduction to African Literature. Gushing about “Americanah” or “Half of a Yellow Sun” is expected from everyone. While indeed her novels are masterpieces, very few people have actually talked about her short story collection, “The Thing around your neck”. It is a shame, because in her stories she deals with many important issues such as sexism, racism, homophobia and colonization. Her short story collection is diverse not only by including many LGBT-characters and having a cast full of POCs, but also in different story settings. She has a historical story, stories about rich people, stories about poor people, a story about writers, stories of politics. The narration also differs in tone in many stories. And while perhaps not all the stories are great, they all capture a certain truth about ordinary lives.

Ms. Adichie

Ms. Adichie

“Cell One” is narrated by a young girl, who is in fact not the real protagonist of the story. Her narration is done by casting a cynical, fed-up eye on her rowdy and small criminal big brother, Nnanamadia, and her parents who continually enable his behavior. The family is fairly wealthy and the brother in fact is heavily implied to continually even steal from his own family. His criminal behavior comes from his involvement with gangs at his university, which early in the story leads him into being imprisoned. This comes as a terrible blow to the parents, but the narrator sees this as her brother getting his just deserts. While it´s never explicably stated, this resentment most certainly comes from parental favoritism and a sense of the brother using his male privilege to get his parents to let him get away with terrible behavior. This dynamic reminded me of Jamaica Kincaid’s memoir, “My brother”, where Ms. Kincaid discussed parental favoritism combined with gendered double standards: her mother would allow her brother to be a slacker while being quite tough on her daughter. While the parents are not harsh towards the girl in this story, she on the other hand has become resentful of her brother.

2 anika rose 1
The plot revolves around the family´s visits to the prison. Nnanamadia first is haughty, but slowly he starts to change over the course of the visits. He starts mentioning an old man who has also been brought to the same prison. This man has been arrested since the police couldn´t find his criminal son, and therefore imprisoned him instead despite a lack of evidence he had broken any laws, and to add insult to injury they also threat him with less respect due to him being poor.

All four of Ms. Adichie´s books covers in Finnish

All four of Ms. Adichie´s books covers in Finnish

As time passes on, Nnanamadia begins to mention and talk about the old man whenever the family visits him. He becomes more and more melancholy in his speech, talking about how the guards are nasty and mean-spirited towards a fragile man who´s harmless. He talks about how no one visits the man, and how the guards neglect the old man in favor of other prisoners. Through the dialogue, the reader begins to notice a huge change in Nnamanadia; before he was conniving and self-centered, but after his witnessing of the fate of the old man, he has begun a venture of human maturation into an empathetic person who sees outside of his own world. With every visit he goes further into his metamorphosis. A particular telling moment is when the parents bring food for Nnamanadia during their visit. Nnanamadia looks at the food, and quietly states that he wants to give it to the old man, who is not properly fed in the prison. The guards blandly and blankly state that this is not allowed; Nnanamadia just silently stares at this offering of food from the family torn and distrait at the inhumanities brought up in the gift. He´s attachment to the old man makes him want to for the first time in his life prioritize someone else besides himself.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie´s works were even referenced in

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie´s works were even referenced in “The Simpsons”

In the climax of the story, Nnanamadia is taken into cell one, where he is severely beaten as a form of torture. And frankly, when the guards tell the parents why this horror is visited on Nnanamadia it becomes as intellectually appalling as emotionally wrenching experience for the reader.

Drawing from The New Yorker in these publication of this story

Drawing from The New Yorker in these publication of this story

What makes “Cell one” such an incredibly story is that it packs many social and political issues such as corruption, harsh prison conditions and class into a narrative lodged acutely in the intimate and personal. The issues are deeply tied with the character growth of Nnanamadia and his tale of growing understanding casts the reader into an optimistic stance of the possible and hopeful side of human behavior. It is contrasted by the guard’s cruelty, which makes them a great foil to Nnanamadia. There´s an old saying in the feminist movement, “The personal is political”, which this story captures by showing how politics and corruption affect the old man’s life as well as Nnanamadia´s coming of age. By showing how the machinations of corruption detours, deforms and defeats human lives – and it is the most fundamental aspects of human existence that are at stake in these questions – Adichie´s writing is an ideal example of social commentary done with concerned focus and sure precision.

Cover for

Cover for “The thing around your neck” in Swedish

“Cell one” is a breathtaking tale, and despite not being a novel, has all the great elements of a literary magnum opus. It would, in my opinion, be also amazing to see this story adapted into a film. The prose is perfect, even in the advents of the young girl’s resentment, and the wondrous personal honesty of the voice of the narration flings the reader along an engrossing plot filled with heartbreaking events. This is political fiction at largest and finest.

Langston Hughes (b. 1902-1967) is one of those writers that don’t need an introduction. Mr. Hughes was the author of several plays, dozens of poems, two biographies as well as a slew of other writing projects. Rarely has there been a writer who could deliver such strong wisdom, wit and a sense for justice in his prose. His short stories and poems speak of the nuances and horrors of racial hatred and discrimination. Hughes’ description of a sole black student in the poem “Theme For English B” captures the alienation that’s been magnified by race, and his poem “Madam and her Madam” (where a hard working black maid calls out the white woman she works for after the latter claims there is no barriers between them) speaks of the utter obviousness and destructive naivety whites embodies in a white privileged society. Langston Hughes work spoke of hope and tried to often empower the oppressed in his poems, such as in his poem “Democracy”. In his most famous short story collection, “The Ways of White Folks”, Hughes tells stories of segregation from the point of view of both whites and blacks, the ongoing theme as the title suggest being the ways whites oppress in era of Jim Crow.

Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes

One of his most powerful short prose pieces is “Poor Little Black Fellow”, which tells the story of Arnold who at a young age becomes an orphan and is adopted by a white rich couple. Arnolds is black and his lost parents were servants. Arnold, or Arnie as everyone calls him, grows up realizing he is not allowed to do nearly anything. Throughout his childhood and youth Arnie experiences being denied the same rights as the white children. He doesn’t get to join the scouts; he doesn’t get to play with the other children and is not invited to any parties. The Church, which his adoptive parents attend, use him as a symbol of “Christian charity”. Everyone in the story displays a superficial tone of exaggerated niceness to Arnie since they know he can’t be a part of anything. Their kindness is patronizing, not really helping with Arnie´s problems as a toxic bearer of blackness in a world of hidden white oppressions. Indeed, Mr. Hughes shows in this story that kindness can in times be worse than maliciousness. By being nice, the whites are able to deny Arnie any forms of equality or rights. Arnie knows in a way that the kindness is fake, a way to rationalize the racism he faces, but is powerless to say anything. Being extra nice to Arnie does nothing but put Arnie down, since he is not treated as a normal kid. Even worse he is used by his adoptive white parents and their friends and neighbors to make them feel better about themselves, while contributing and continuing the dehumanizing segregation and its hidden ideology.

"Painting Of Black Child" by Maria Saldarriaga, painted on porcelain

“Painting Of Black Child” by Maria Saldarriaga, painted on porcelain

But once Arnie starts to reach adulthood, Arnie and his adoptive parents take a trip to France. There Arnie starts to become immersed in political activism and social milieu (notably “party’s”). He begins a journey where meeting people for the first time gives him the feeling that the kindness he receives isn’t patronizing and degrading, but actually based on him as a person. He even falls in love with a white French girl and plans to marry her.

"Slow Dance", by Brandy Kayzakian-Rowe

“Slow Dance”, by Brandy Kayzakian-Rowe

He wants to stay in France, where he is treated equally and not shut down by faux-kindness. However, when he tells his parents about this plan, the white rich couple for the first time quit being “extra nice” and show their true colors to Arnie.

"Langston Hughes", a painting from the Brooklyn Art Project

“Langston Hughes”, a painting from the Brooklyn Art Project

Hughes uses France as a strong contrast to the US; while one country features segregation, the other provides hope and rights. Many black intellectuals in fact did move to France before and after the civil rights movement, such as James Baldwin and Richard Wright. While France did offer more rights to people of color at the time, the French did their share of also the separation and exotic-fication of blacks in their society.


The black French writer Frantz Fanon spoke of how, in his opinion, the French didn’t fully allow for blacks to be black in their own way nor did they fully understand what it was like to be “imprisoned in ones skin color”. Indeed, the French had a subtle, but emphatically problematic way of viewing Africa and Africans, believing them to be the “pure emotional ones”. Blacks were categorized at times as all African and there were cases where whites would tell blacks to behave “more African”. Mr. Fanon wrote an entire book on the account of racism in France, most notable the book “Black skin, White Mask”, where he deals with the psychological aspects in racism. Also, the time Hughes is describing in his story is the same time when Algeria was still colonized by France. So while the basic truth Hughes describes in his story ( that France offered some basic rights for the black Americans while the US still lived in the mind set of Jim Crow) this does erase certain more troublesome aspects of the French racial mindset from that time as well. None the less, Mr. Hughes uses this contrast between the two countries (France is more of metaphorical country in Hughes story than the real France detailed by Mr. Fanon) in a clever way to also show the difference between patronizing and humanizing.

Frantz Fanon

Frantz Fanon

“Poor Little Black Fellow” is a great literary document of the 1930’s. It is also a great example of how racism is more and more insidious than the explicit and obvious malicious and cruel actions engendered in the prejudiced social world. It’s also denial, which Arnie´s adoptive parents are guilty of. Prejudice and hatred take different shapes. Just because one is acting nice it most certainly doesn’t mean the actions are not harmful. This niceness, as described by Mr. Hughes, can be a way to exercise ones privilege and of looking down. Making someone less of a person is exposed in a grammar of oppression regardless of ones tone or being “polite” about it. This story is the perfect example of this, and should therefore be read by everybody who thinks everything will be okay if we are just nice to each other. If only it was so easy, but true kindness comes in the form of true equal rights, opportunity and freedom, as Langston Hughes illustrates.

“I think most human beings go through some sort of depression in their life. And if they don’t, I think that’s weird” – Kirsten Dunst

Yu Dafu (郁达夫) was born in Fuyang (a country-level city under jurisdiction of Hangzhou, which in turn is the provincial capital of Zhejiang, an eastern coastal province in China) in 1896. He died in 1945, probably executed by the Japanese during the final moments of the Second Sino-Japanese War. Yu Dafu lived his yearly childhood years in poverty. However, he was able to study due to receiving several scholarships from the government of the time. Mr. Yu studied at several Universities, for instance the Hangchow University, which he only studied at for a short time since he was expelled for participating in a student strike. He then moved to Japan, where he met several Chinese intellectuals. Together they founded the “Creation Society”, which promoted modern literature. Around this time he also started publishing his earliest works in Japan; in 1921 he published the short story “Sinking” (“Chenlun”, 沉淪), his most famous work.

Yu Dafu

Yu Dafu

“Sinking” was mandatory reading for a university class I took last term. When discussing it, the class was fairly divided; many accused the story for depicting an egotistical person who does nothing. One woman in my class however stated: “This man seemed fairly isolated and hasn’t received any affection, any love from anyone. I think this character could have used some therapy”. Her thoughts reflect exactly the take this review will have of the protagonist in “Sinking” and what the story, arguable, describes: A man with severe emotional difficulties due to an unbalanced society.

The protagonist in “Sinking” is never named. He remains just simply an anonymous “He”. However his back story has many similarities to that of Yu Dafu, such as his father dying at the age of three and living in poverty as a child. It has been stated that Yu’s short stories and poems often reflect his emotions and are influenced by his experiences in life. However, this is a little questionable as a major theme in “Sinking”, found as well as his other works, is the feeling of being alienated from women, while the author in actuality was married three times with three different women. On the other hand similarity to Mr. Yu can be found in the stories protagonist is pursuing a study course in Japan and this is the environment which we explore with him. “Sinking” begins with the protagonist lost in a field of alienation triggered by the deep well of “lonesome” which engulfs his person. So begins a story tightly focused on the main characters feelings and moods which unmoored by the feelings of disconnection cause the mental state of the protagonist to uncontrollably (and drastically) undulate over the short span of the narratives unfolding.

One of the very first covers for "Sinking" (Unfortunately sexist)

One of the very first covers for “Sinking” (Unfortunately sexist)

Depression has only recently become a topic which our society can openly confront and discuss. And even if a new openness has been conceded to the subject within Western cultures, it is still one which finds an “uncomfortableness” in the normal conversations of the public and one which finds some stigma lurking in the background. In the midst of this silence and awkward speech, however are to be found some wonderful and insightful works of fiction that depict depression. The most famous example within this “genre” for the Western Reader is Sylvia Plath’s magnus opus, “The Bell Jar” and interestingly, Yu Dafu’s young, lonesome “He” shares similar traits with Esther, the protagonist of “The Bell Jar”.


“Sinking” is, frankly, another great literary depiction of depression and the whirlpool of desperate emotions it entails.

Both Esther and “He” find it impossible to enjoy literature. In the “The Bell Jar” Esther describes with great alarm to her psychiatrist and her mother that she “no longer reads books”. The protagonist of “Sinking” is described as picking up books, reading “out of sequence”, deceitfully deciding to himself that it would be a pity to just gulp down a book, and abandoning the text . Yu describes the fragmented thoughts engendered by this depression: “Everytime he closed a book, he made up similar excuses for himself. The real reason was that he had already grown a little tired of it”. Both start irregular sleeping habits, such as Esther describing that she “no longer sleeps”. “He” from “Sinking” starts to over sleep, also developing irregular eating habits: “Without bothering with lunch, he slept until four o´clock”. Other than that, the main character in “Sinking” has also a habit of crying spontaneously as well as has mood swings. “He” is prone to self-pity, a common trait of depression in men.


Naturally one can’t claim this story purposefully wants to solely illustrate a person with depression due to its simultaneous political agenda, however the text openly states that the character suffers from “melancholia” and arguable depression is the terrible and tumultuous state which Yu Dafu is hoping to explore.

Chinese symbol for "hopelessness"

Chinese symbol for “hopelessness”

Yu Dafu was a known critic of society and was known for highlighting government incompetence. During the 1920s, Chinese intellectuals (especially the ones who participated in the May Fourth Movement) believed that in order to improve Society one had to begin by looking, not at the State, but at the individual. To tone up the “I”, so to speak. “Sinking” is purposefully about a man who is not feeling well due to society. Similar to Esther’s depression in “The Bell Jar” being primarily triggered and horribly engendered by the rampant sexism in the American society, Yu’s protagonists depression is caused and sustained by the unstable economical and political situations in China, the alienation and racism he faces in Japan, and a Society which stoutly refuses to recognize its own problems placing it on the individual instead.


Critics have often pointed out that “Sinking” is highly nationalistic, which of course resonates differently today then what it did back in 1921. Personally, this inclination in the text bothers me little since it was mostly expressed as a sense of wanting to be just seen as equally good as others (Yu Dafu as we find in “He” is a Stranger in a foreign land)*. In Sinking, the protagonist laments: “Isn’t the scenery in China as beautiful? Aren’t the girls in China as pretty?”. “He” does wallow about in fantasies of revenge and violence, which is assuredly unnerving to the reader, but the statements and questions do strike a sort of truth regarding “He’s” chaotic, alienated mental state and the veiled hostile abandonment a society and State imposes on the “outsider”. The Japanese students who “He” continually encounters in the milieu of his study treat him coldly and venture into the adjacent terrain of alienating indifference and covert intimidation to which “He” naturally reacts to with insecurity and anger. It can be said for all that when engulfed in a shadow of forces beyond control and sense even the sanest of us respond with insecurity, confusion and resentment. Using the Plight of “He” Yu Dafu endeavors, along with this question of the inhumanity of person to person, to lay a ground to motivate China to reform and improve itself. To look at the how the State may encourage and nurture the individual and consider a Society formed at the best intersections of Personnel and Political, the individual and the Nation/State.

Yu Dafu was also fairly shocking for his time with his frank dealing with sexuality. Indeed, “Sinking” makes frequent references and depictions of the protagonist masturbating. This works as a way to demystify self-pleasuring, but also a way to portray the protagonist’s alienation. He is insecure and uncertain of himself and barely can find the courage to approach women (or any person, really). He is friendless and unable to bond with another human being. The masturbation scenes are not for shock value, but an honest way for the author to speak of his protagonists’ feelings of guilt and his hopeless earning for love.

Other works by Mr. Yu

Other works by Mr. Yu

The story also is interesting in how openly the protagonist is, in his own way, a little bit too romantic for his own good. He even considers suicide since, as he puts it: “And what would life be without love?”.


Not much happens in “Sinking”, Yu just lets the story of a sad man’s life unfold. “Sinking” is a tale about emotions, deep unhappiness and despair. No doubt the story will speak to anyone who has ever felt lonely or hopeless at some point in their life. It is a raw, honest and painfully candid tale with timeless themes.


*As a person of Finnish descent, I can relate strongly to the insecurity of being in another countries “Shadow”. In fact I have asked similar questions to myself as “He”. Here’s a music video recorded by a Finnish Band about living in Swedens shadow (My apologies for the title, it was written in the fifties). No English, just Swedish and Finnish sorry.

Short stories, as a literary form, are sadly overlooked and not commonly held as having the same status as novels. It is ordinarily held that for a story to have great character development and a satisfying plot, the story must be told in a proper novel form. This is a grand misconception, for many great stories are in fact short stories.


With this in mind, I will begin a new series on this blog where I review short stories worth reading and contemplating as a satisfying literary form.

Recently Granta, a literary magazine and publishing organization from the United Kingdom, distributed a book that has a large collection of short stories from Britain’s “Best Young Authors”. This is a tradition that Granta started in 1993; a collection of short stories is published (as I have understood) every ten years. Granta’s mission, according to them, is to underline ”the power and urgency of the story, both in fiction and non-fiction, and the story’s supreme ability to describe, illuminate and make real”. According to “Flavorwire”, to be selected as a “Best Young British Author” in this anthology is an honor that, in their words, is “more often than not is a harbinger of success”. A believable claim, since authors Salman Rushdie and Monica Ali became big stars in the literary fields after being featured in Granta’s anthology. This year’s Granta collection, named “Granta 123”, features writers such as Helen Oyeyemi, Kamila Shamsie, and Xiaolu Guo, among many other impressive names. From this anthology I have selected the gripping and concise short story by Xiaolu Guo that will be discussed in this review of the short story format.

A collection of Granta's published magazines

A collection of Granta’s published magazines

Xiaolu Guo was born in 1973 in China, but has lived for quite a while in England. Ms. Guo is both a novelist and filmmaker. She debuted as a novelist in 1999 in China and wrote her first short story collections and novels in Mandarin. Her third novel “A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers” (2007) was written in (purposely broken) English and has since then been translated into 26 different languages. In “Granta 123” Guo presents us with a four-page long story titled “Interim Zone”.

Ms. Xiaolu Guo

Ms. Xiaolu Guo

The first thing that must be said about “Interim Zone” is that it is much, much better than “A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers” – which is no easy feat. While Guo’s famous novel was funny, inventive in its writing style and harbored a marvelous depiction of culture-shock (and is commonly exposing a sharp social and political tone) “Interim Zone” is that rare story that is able to hit you right in the feelings. It truly does make you stay up at night just thinking about the story and its single character. “Interim Zone” tells the story of Jian, a Chinese refugee waiting to receive asylum from France. He is located at a refugee camp, where he spends his time praying to Pangu (a main figure in Chinese mythology), learning French and watching the other refugees at the Camp. While waiting to get asylum, he starts to remember his childhood in China. In particular, he remembers an incident involving a beating he received by some playmates and his father’s cold and cruel response to this event. Essentially, the father blames Jian for his own misfortune. Jian’s father was mostly an absent parent, which makes this memory even more painful for Jian.

Guo never mentions basic information about Jian, such as his age or why he has become a refugee. Despite this missing information, Jian becomes a fully fleshed out character through Guo’s narrative structure of mere description of Jian’s thoughts and actions within the event of a single day. Jian is shown to have a strong sense of irony when pondering on people’s habit of creating gods identical to themselves. It turns out that Jian has a talent in figuring other people out by studying them, as reflected in his observations of the other refugees. Yet despite this talent, Jian is a very lonely soul. He has been a very lonely soul for many years, ever since he was neglected by his father.


Guo uses the broken father-son relationship to draw parallels to Jians loneliness at the camp. Jian claims that though he has been recently excluded and exiled from his homeland, he in reality feels that his father had already condemned him to exile years before the advent of the refugee camp. Ms. Guo has used similar parallels in her previous works. For example in “A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers” the protagonist Zhuang explains how her physically abusive mother is mirrored in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in that time is suspended and prolonged in their cruelty.


This conundrum of Parental mistreatment as linked and reflected by unjust politics is a common theme running throughout contemporary literature ( For example: The Austrian Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek’s work “The Piano Teacher” itself is an entire novel using a metaphor to link these two things together.) and this conjunctive hybrid works perfectly in “Interim Zone”. This is due to the fact that the juxtaposed metaphor becomes a dual exploration of Jians situation in life as both an abuse survivor and refugee. In the midst of this dilemma Guo still holds a narrative which becomes a tantalizing and beautiful statement about the nature and foundation of loneliness itself. “Interim Zone” is a representation of the hidden nature of the sense of isolation, and, as bell hooks has stated: “Oppression begins at home”, where isolation and exile abide.