Reading Advice From Philip Gourevitch
Q: If someone has time to read only one book in the next month, what should it be?
A: Actually, I’ve written three books — so that gives you a choice. But seriously I want to urge you to read a book to which I did write a very brief introduction because I had the privilege of publishing parts of it in the Paris Review over the years: The Corpse Walker: Real Life Stories — China from the bottom Up by Liao Yiwu (Pantheon 2008). The book is a collection of extraordinary interviews Liao — a dissident poet who was tossed in jail after the Tianamen massacre — has conducted with the sort of marginal and underclass characters that the Chinese Communist party wants to pretend no longer exist in a revolutionary utopia: a public toilet manager, a human smuggler, a professional mourner. Liao’s subjects range from the criminal to the folkloric, and in the often grim, often hilarious accountings and recountings of their lives they offer a kind of counter-history of China since the cultural revolution. Liao’s interviews were wildly popular in China, and so they were banned there. But he perseveres. Through the great work of his American translator Wenguang Huang he is now ours to enjoy as well. And Liao keeps making news. Just this week, the Chinese government banned Liao from traveling to Germany to attend the Frankfurt Book Fair, even though — or perhaps because — the Fair is celebrating Chinese publishing this year. What better way to protest this latest offense against free expression than to treat yourself to Liao’s superbly enjoyable, irreverent and unforgettable book.
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