On the 25th anniversary year of the Tiananmen protests, the letters and diaries of two Chinese dissidents are collected for translation, revealing the story of their twenty years of separation as the tragic price they had to pay for freedom from artistic censorship. This far-ranging, multilayered story of love and exile across continents, whilst a searing socio-political account, is also an intriguing reflection on cultural identity.
How much liberty does a translator have? ... ‘She is a woman, after all. Woman lives.’ Did Jian mean women survive better than men because women live beyond the mere political animal? And did he change his mind from reading Grossman’s book? How much despair was he in to write ‘Bullets speak the truth, not maths’?
Iona thinks of a little Zen story her mother used to read to her when she was a child: two young fish are swimming along in the water and they meet an older fish swimming the other way who nods to them and says: ‘Morning, how’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and wonder: ‘What the hell is water?’ Iona had always liked the story. Often she feels she can’t see clearly what sort of world she is in, even though she has been witnessing it and feeling it vividly.