Disclaimer: I requested and received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review
Pop Sugar Reading Challenge Update: 12/40
A Book About a Culture You Are Not Familiar With
Release Date: March 8, 2016
Title: Slow Boat to China and Other Stories
Author: Ng Kim Chew
Translator: Carlos Rojas
Publisher: Colombia University Press
Page #: 304
Genre: Literary Fiction
Now despite the fact that there are a number of days between when I started this book and when I finished it I read it in only two sitting and I have to say that I recommend spacing these stories out more than I did. This is definitely a collection that needs each story to be taken in its own stride. It deserves having each story read and evaluated of its own merits because they are all thought provoking, beautiful, or haunting in their own way.
Due to the fact that I chose to push through it and read it in a handful of sittings, mostly because I put an imposed deadline on myself and for no other reason than that, I felt like the stories at the beginning were far stronger than those at the end while still constantly taking note of the fact that the stories were delicately woven and built filled with juxtaposed formal language and profanity.
I don’t plan to get into any detail of the stories individually because I honestly think this is a collection that is a must read. I will say that there are stories that involve a reporter searching for an enigmatic and completely unknown author who blew the world away with their writing, a boy eating turtles in the dark of night so that he can collect their shells obsessively to the point of fetishization, and the love between one regal tiger and an old boat long run ashore.
I feel like aside from the writing, the strength of these stories is the way that they seem to weave together seamlessly. That isn’t to say they have a continuing plot but they bring up elements, themes, or structures from the previous stories. The translator did an incredible job of making sure the order was perfect. That is one of the things that makes a good short story collection great, when they are presented in a way that facilitates the stories talking to each other and building off each other. That is definitely the case here.
I do have to say that there were some elements that appeared so often it began to annoy me slightly, but this is most likely due to the fact that I read them all so quickly. I don’t think this feeling would persist if I reread it and spread them out over time. I do plan to reread this collection as there were many images and themes I found incredibly interesting. Why exactly does falling asleep on an ant hill have so much importance? Is it simply that the author had a traumatic experience as a child or is it something more? I feel like I can only discover this now that I know all of the stories as they are and how they stack up next to each other.
Reading this collection was like stepping into the middle of a tropical rubber forest in Malaysia and sometimes stepping out the streets of various countries in the south of Asia, places I have never been and had heard very little about but now want to visit and explore and learn about. It let me in on the tension and animosity between the Malay people and those of Chinese decent but Malaysian born. It discussed the changing times where subsistence farmers worry about sending their kids to college as is expected in the rapidly industrializing world that has just started to brush their lives, many discuss what literature means and what it can do, some focus on identity or personal gratification, but all of them have something to say and it was a wonderful experience to dip into. I would highly recommend you pick this up when it is released in March!
That’s all I have for you guys today folks! I hope you have a lovely weekend and pick up this book when it is available to you!