Tuesday 7 October 2014

Published Today: The Book of Sins by Chen Xiwo

Forty-six, a new imprint of Hong Kong based Make Do Publishing is devoted to writing from Asia, and publishes translated fiction by ground-breaking writers such as Murong Xuecun, Anni Baobei and Li Er. 

Forty-six today releases The Book of Sins, translated by Nicky Harman. This is a controversial and provocative collection of novellas by Chinese dissident Chen Xiwo. The first of Chen’s books to be published in English, it was banned in China, and he caused an international sensation when he sued the government to force it to explain the prohibition. It subsequently won an English PEN Award for translated fiction.

About Chen Xiwo

Chen Xiwo is one of contemporary China's most acclaimed authors; his works have been nominated for numerous prizes and in 2001 he won the Chinese Literature Media Prize, with My Dissipation. His novels are characterized by defiance and black humour.

About The Book of Sins

The Book of Sins is an investigation of the darker side of the human psyche. Seven novellas explore sexual and political deviance and corruption, they confront topics like S&M, voyeurism, and incest. In I Love My Mum, a disabled man who shares a bed with his mother is arrested for murder; here Chen uses incest as a metaphor for a dysfunctional society. Likewise, in Kidney Tonic, a resident of an exclusive gated community indulges in voyeuristic fantasies about the sex lives of his neighbours. Meanwhile, in Going To Heaven, the son of a village undertaker tries to convince his friend to enter a suicide pact, surely a sly reference to political relations between the Party and the people in China?

About the court case

Chen Xiwo has been described by Asia Sentinel as: “one of China’s most outspoken voices on freedom of expression.” His refusal to self-censor his controversial work meant he’d been writing for nearly 20 years before his books could be published in China, although he found publication in Taiwan.  In June 2007, the China Customs intercepted the galley proof of The Book of Sins, which had been mailed to Chen by his Taiwanese publisher. The book was banned in China.  Chen launched a legal challenge  against the government for the prohibition and an uproar exploded in the Chinese media at the absurdity of a writer having his own book confiscated.

In a 2010 essay, The First Prohibition, Chen Xiwo wrote: “To be prohibited is normal for me. Basically, everything I have published has either been banned or else extensively revised…This is my style of writing, although lots of people don’t understand why I want to write this way. It embarrasses them. It makes people unhappy, makes them anxious. Well I prefer to be this kind of evil spirit, rather than an angel who sings all day long in praise of some ‘golden age of China.’”

Nicky Harman’s English translation of The Book of Sins will bring a courageous writer and dissident to wider international prominence.