Nicky Harman writes: I have just finished translating Broken Wings, a novel by Jia Pingwa about human trafficking. Kidnapping is not a popular theme in literary fiction; a Goodreads list consists exclusively of man-rescues-beautiful-girl, “romantic suspense” genre novels. (Though of course, there is also a lot of quality non-fiction, in the form of memoirs by trafficked women.) So some of Jia Pingwa’s biggest fans in China were surprised when this work (called in the original Chinese, 《极花》, literally, extreme- or pole-flower) came out in 2016. Butterfly is a young woman who is kidnapped and taken to a remote country village where Bright Black, the wifeless farmer who has bought her, imprisons her in his cave home. He rapes her and she gives birth to a baby son. The rape, the birth and Butterfly’s fading hopes are described in her own voice, and the effect is bleak. Jia writes in his Afterword that he was inspired to write this story by the experience of a friend whose daughter suffered a similar fate. The real-life young woman was eventually rescued but could not cope either with her sudden notoriety or the loss of her baby, whom she had had to leave behind, and actually returned to the village.
Broken Wings is a disturbing read for other reasons too: Jia Pingwa hints at Butterfly's impending mental breakdown, and presents us with an eventual rescue which may, or may not, be a dream sequence. Will Broken Wings appeal to English-language readers and if so, why? Having been alone with my translation for many months, I was keen to ask my editor, David Lammie, for his views on the book.