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Home » Sunday » Book

Sun Wei: ‘I prefer reading an e-book at night when I go to bed’

I’ve finally grown up!” Sun Wei told me after she won the 2013 Chinese Writers’ Erdos Prize for Literature for her crime novel “Person in a Bottle.”The 41-year-old novelist joins a list that includes Alai, 55, and Wang Meng, 80. 

“Person in a Bottle” is a whodunit set in Shanghai, a city filled with lonely people, many with hidden lives. A city pharmaceutical company has spent billions to develop a new antidepressant, but in Stage 3 trials, a patient dies, making headlines and threatening profits. Fourteen other deaths are uncovered, many linked by strange internet posts. Many successful, powerful and glamorous men and women are revealed to suffer ailments such as schizophrenia, depression, drug abuse and internet addiction.

Born in 1973 in Shanghai, Sun grew up in a well-educated family. She started writing in 1982 and joined the Shanghai Writers’ Association in 1992, becoming the youngest member at that time. Sun Wei is a flexible and creative writer who has gone beyond stereotypes. She writes with crystal-clear logic and a prudent voice that rarely involves erotic or seductive scenes. This may be less appealing to some modern readers, however, the tension, loneliness and horror of a contemporary life in her writing has caused a sensation in recent years.

What’s the best book you’ve read in the past year?

While in the Baltic Sea Literature Centre in Goteborg, Sweden, I found  British writer David Lodge’s “Small World: An Academic Romance.” I reread it in one sitting. I swear I am a law-abiding citizen. In my not-so-long life time, three times I’ve had the sinful idea of stealing something — twice this humorous campus novel and once a painting from the Louvre. I restrained myself, however, and would like to rank it the best book I’ve read in the past year.

What’s your ideal reading experience?

I prefer reading e-books on my iPad at night after I go to bed, thus, I can even read in my dreams. With this e-book that glows in the dark, I actually read in whatever position that suits my needs. My back and neck are finally released from the shackles of a desk lamp.

What’s your favorite Chinese classic?

The “Story of the Stone,” or “A Dream of Red Mansions,” written in mid-18th century by Cao Xueqin. A great story, like religion, should be able to provide a complete interpretation of the world it creates. I think the world of “A Dream” is closest to the reality of the world that I live in.

Who are the best Chinese writers working today?

Many contemporary writers have made unremitting efforts to express themselves according to their own aesthetic appreciation, values and recognition of the world. Literature demands piety and continuous hard work. A keen observer and persistent storyteller, Wang Anyi has created a secular world that is genuinely awesome. Zhao Lihong’s world is poetic, immortal and timeless. And Qin Wenjun is one of the few children’s writers who keep her guardian angel on her shoulder into adulthood. I also read Alai, a Tibetan novelist and poet, whose retelling of a popular Tibetan myth “King Gesar” (2009) replays the old wisdom long lost by modern people.

Are there “surprising” books on your bookshelves?

I have a miscellaneous collection of rare and old books. For example, works by German poet Friedrich Hölderlin, Heidegger’s “Being and Time,” “Witchcraft and Prophecy of the Azanders” by British anthropologist Evans-Pritchard, textbooks on Chinese traditional medicine and the Mental Health Library Series, such as Hypnosis and Psychoanalysis ... I have a complete Japanese manga collection of “City Hunter.” I am obsessed with books on suicides.

Do you have a favorite childhood literary character?

I admire Victor Hugo. “Les Miserables” (Chinese edition) was the first novel I read when I was only five. Since then, I knew so long as I had a book, I wouldn’t feel lonely, even if I was alone. His writing makes me believe in the divinity of human beings and the power of mercy and love, as well as the importance of hating evil and loving what is good. Though Hugo lived in the 19th century and I in the 20th, his writing got to my heart. He makes me want to be a better person and to somehow let that be reflected in my writing.

If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be?

Cao Xueqin. I would say hello. I hope all is well for him now that he lives in the Heaven. I would be happy to see him well fed and well clothed and have enough money for drinks. I would be thrilled to know he is still writing. I want to tell him, “Would you please finish ‘A Dream of Red Mansions’ and send it over to us by e-mail?” 


 

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