It was a first for Hua Cheng publishers, for the author, and certainly for me – though perhaps not for the Bai Ye, a bar which hosts regular literary events in Chengdu’s Kuan Zhai Xiangzi district. This book launch provided non-stop entertainment for at least two hours in a packed space where people at the back carried on talking noisily regardless but the mike was so powerful that you could hear the speakers from the street. Han Dong's fourth novel was launched on 24 February 2010. Now called 《知青变形记》[Metamorphosis of an Educated Youth], it had the original, much ruder, working title 《日》(and at least one purchaser asked for “日” to be inscribed above Han Dong’s signature!) An extract appears in translation on Paper Republic under the English title Screwed.
Anyway, titles notwithstanding, the evening was a great deal more fun that any book launch I’ve been to in London (normal format: speech from publisher, reading by author, and too much wine on an empty stomach). There was, true, the obligatory and slightly over-long speech by the publisher, followed by a reading by the author, but thereafter it all became much more lively. Han Dong gave an impromptu speech in which he said he turned to writing novels when he figured he would never write poetry as good as that of his favourite poets, Yu Xiaowei and Xiao An, so thought he had better try something different. The presenter interviewed him on stage about the book; there were also readings of some of Han Dong’s poems – some read in Chengdu dialect and other dialects/languages – and I read a few pages of my translation. A woman played the pi-pa, including a modern arrangement with a backing track that had at least some of the audience dancing, the 200 copies brought by Hua Cheng publishers sold out… and the beer flowed generously.
Hey, you book launch organisers! A model to follow for future events?