Calling him the city’s “Chinese literary secret,” Montreal’s intellectuals have applauded a Chinese writer, whose debut publication in English is said to be evocative of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. The multilingual Montreal International Literary Festival, widely known as the Blue Metropolis, has awarded its first China-born author, Xue Yiwei, the Literary Diversity Prize for a First Publication for Shenzheners, a collection of Dubliners-inspired short stories that delve into the loneliness and isolation of people in China’s youngest metropolis.
In a rare preface, the US National Book Award winner Ha Jin calls Xue “a maverick” in contemporary Chinese literature. For Xue, Ha wrote, to write is to make a pilgrimage to his masters: Joyce, Borges, Calvino, Proust. In China, 53-year-old Xue’s reputation is still growing among critics for his meditation on history and philosophy, and his lyrical and logical portrait of the characters’ psychological landscapes.
In 2002, when his literary career started to gain attention in China, Xue told the Montreal Gazette, he moved to Montreal where he received a master’s degree in English literature and the “invisibility” he experiences in Canada has enabled him to later become one of the most prolific Chinese writers. Since 2012, Xue has published five novels, five collections of short stories and five essay collections, earning him more than enough media attention.
Xue lived in Shenzhen for 12 years as a full-time writer in the 1990s. He told the Gazette that his literary life was nurtured by the rapidly growing border city and manufacturing town’s unique cultural environment, where urbanization, globalization and the cultural impact from its neighbor, the then British-ruled Hong Kong, were refashioning people’s lifestyles and values. “I felt strong waves of new era every day,” he told the Gazette. “I have felt and been inspired by the inner world of ordinary people under the impact of globalization,. This is the reason why I decided to write Shenzheners.”