Wednesday, 20 July 2011

What we’re reading…Three Sisters by Bi Feiyu

Here at Book Festival HQ we’re lucky enough to have every book in the programme at our disposal. Over the next few weeks we’ll be bringing you some reviews of what us Book Festival folk have been reading. Today it’s Three Sisters by Bi Feiyu...

Three Sisters tells the story of Yumi, Yuxiu and Yuyang who grew up in Wang Family Village, China, a place attuned to the rhythm of work and the slogans of the Cultural Revolution. Split into three parts, the book follows the sisters’ lives as they struggle to change their destiny in a China that does not belong to them.

Famed for the characterisation of women in his novels, and his ability to get inside the Chinese female psyche, Bi takes the reader on an extraordinary journey of self-discovery for the sisters as they move to the emerging cities, tackling the themes of sex, power and loss of face.

The women’s lives depend heavily on the influence and decision making of the men in the book - their husbands, fathers, teachers, employers and lovers. Once the first sister Yumi realises that her future is beyond her control Bi writes, 'She began to see herself as a sheet of paper floating in the air, no matter where the winds took her, the result was always the same, she was either ripped to shreds or trampled to the ground.' The text is peppered with these proverbs or idioms common to traditional Chinese literature called chéngyŭ, giving the book a wonderfully strong identity that manages to remain intact even after translation in to English, due in a large part to the renowned translator Howard Goldblatt.

A thoroughly interesting novel that offers a deep insight in to the lives of women in China only 20 or 30 years ago, it is no surprise that Three Sisters won the 2010 Man Asian Literary Prize, the most respected prize for Asian writers.

Bi Feiyu will appear with other writers shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize, Tabish Kahair and Manu Joseph, in Voices of Asian Literature on Thursday 25 August at 7pm.Tickets cost £10 (£8 concessions).