NYT Reviews Fang Fang's Wuhan Diaries


Writers in lockdown are, like everyone else, feeling pale and postoperative. The pandemic has thrown a spanner into best-laid plans. A diary, as soldiers, prisoners and invalids have long understood, can be a good way to write oneself out of a bad spot.

The Chinese novelist Fang Fang lives in downtown Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. After that city went into quarantine in January, she began keeping an online diary about her experience. Wuhan remained shut down for 76 days, and is still struggling to return to anything resembling normalcy.

attached to: Fengcheng Riji


# 1.   

The reviewer writes:

This is an important and dignified book that nonetheless, in this adept translation by Michael Barry, has its share of dead space and repetition.

“Wuhan Diary” would have been twice as good at half the length. It’s a bit easier to praise, as Tom Wolfe said of the William Shawn-era New Yorker, than it is to read. Still, the urgency of this account is impossible to deny.

Another approach might even have been better: Publish online in "real time," i.e., publish each post within 24-48 hours after it went online in China -- and before it was censored or scrubbed.

Why are we still tied in to "traditional publishing" when nowadays a publisher could call upon a team of translators who could easily turn out one of Fang Fang's posts in a day or two?

Sure, a longer time period would allow for better translation, proofing, editing and polishing, but that could be reserved for the print version. I would argue that the immediacy of a less perfect version, serialized and in real time, would make that "dead space and repetition" much less noticeable and significant.

China is not a black box, and it is not light years away. The faster the access, the sooner we will realize this.

Bruce Humes, May 19, 2020, 3:28a.m.

# 2.   

A young woman was posting her translations online, mostly keeping up with the original. I imagine the publisher sent her a note telling her to knock it off, but maybe someone else knows more than me about how that played out...

Dylan Levi King, May 21, 2020, 10:56a.m.


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