by Zhang Yueran
Zhang Yueran, one of China’s most accomplished young female writers, debuts in the English-speaking world with Cocoon, an upmarket literary thriller, which delves into the complexity of a crime set during the Cultural Revolution, in one of contemporary China’s most chaotic years
Cheng Gong and Li Jiaqi go way back. Both hailing from dysfunctional families, they grew up together in a Chinese provincial capital in the 1980s. Now, many years later, the childhood friends reunite and discover how much they still have in common. Both have always been determined to follow the tracks of their grandparents’ generation to the heart of a mystery that perhaps should have stayed buried. What exactly happened during that rainy night in 1967, in the abandoned water tower? Zhang Yueran’s layered and hypnotic prose reveals much about the unshakable power of friendship and the existence of hope. Hers is a unique fresh voice representing a new generation of important young writers from China, shedding a different light on the country’s recent past.
Zhang Yueran is one of China’s most influential young writers. A literary celebrity since her early twenties, she is a prominent figure in the “post-80” (i.e. born after 1980) generation, known for both her novels and her editorship of the journal Newriting. Her novel Cocoon is her first work published in English.
My thoughts: “I came back last month and didn’t tell a soul.” So begins Zhang Yueran’s novel (translated by Jeremy Tiang) and I was enthralled from the beginning. I was fascinated by how one action in the past sent its influence down to future generations like shock waves, pushing characters apart but also keeping them captured in it’s gravity of grief.
“The house was terrifyingly quiet, nothing but the sound of chewing, as if they were all gnawing on someone else’s bones.”
I loved reading this mysterious, sad, rich and incredibly sophisticated novel. It might be the best Chinese novel I’ve ever read. A book haunted by memories and the longing to know people who are gone. A Masterpiece.