I found this book, The Banquet Bug by Geling Yan, via the list of Chinese must-reads published to coincide with the Beijing Olympics. I chose this one to buy (first) mainly because it deals with journalism and food, at least in part.
I found it quite peculiar that the copyright page of the book doesn’t list a date — not even a year — of publication and/or copyright. Isn’t that weird? OK, well, I guess I’ll try to understand if you all don’t peruse the copyright page of each book as you begin to read it. Per Amazon, the book was published August 7, 2007. However, it was named “Best Book” for 2006 in the adult fiction category by the Chinese-American Librarians’ Association, per the Yan’s website. And it was written in English (not translated into English), so that’s not the source of the discrepancy. It shouldn’t be this hard to learn when a book was published!
This post about her name is interesting to me, and perhaps to you as well.
Another aspect of the physical book that kept drawing my attention was the margins. The margins are small, 1 centimeter on the top and both sides. On the bottom of the page, there appears to be a little more breathing room — the text stops an inch before the edge of the page — but it’s really not much. Below the page number, which is in a rectangular visual element, the page lasts for less than 1 centimeter. Chapters are marked not by a new page, let alone by a new right-side page, but by a visual geographic block 1.5 cm tall. The front matter seems to mostly have the space usually allotted to it, but the author’s bio, photo and all, is printed on the inside of the back cover. Strange!
I was surprised, saddened by the extramarital encounters. And by the derogatory language, a bit.
I was intrigued by the story. The pretend journalist, Dan Dong, lives in fear, on edge. This makes sense, particularly in a climate where he’s learned other banquet bugs exist and are being discovered in their deception and punished. But his trepidation continues after he’s mostly an actual journalist, at least in my mind.
I was also surprised by his reaction to people who, hearing he’s a journalist, pin their hopes on him for relief from the injustices of their lives. People do approach journalists with tales such as these, throughout the world. The thing is, usually the journalist can help. I didn’t expect his sense of hopelessness.
The book portrayed well the journalist’s feeling that, as Yan states it, the reporter acts as a vessel, holding all the misery they encounter:
“He hates being a container into which these miserable guys spit and vomit their bitterness and sadness.” And later: “Finding pathetic characters and unearthing their misery: that’s what a newsman does.”
He also lacks the sympathy, though, that is typical of a new reporter. He’s selfish. From page 170:
Why the hell should he want to know that so-and-so’s mother is waiting desperately for money to have her belly cut open? Hasn’t he seen enough of country wives, huge with pregnancy, tending fields because their husbands have drifted elsewhere to work, promising to send money home? He was having a perfect day when he came out here with Little Plum, and now he is upset.
Overall, I enjoyed the book. I wonder, though, how much that enjoyment was tied to my acute interest in the subject matter.
This book is titled The Uninvited in the UK edition.
Here’s the author’s website. She worked as a journalist.
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