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Booker International Longlist 2021 – I Live in the Slums by Can Xue

96. Can Xue - I Live in the Slums

Booker International Longlist Book 11 rated by panellists Tracy & Rachel

I Live in the Slums
Translated by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping from Chinese
Published by Yale University Press, London

Details from the official Booker Site: I Live in the Slums combines elements of both Chinese materiality—the love of physical things—and Western abstract thinking, inviting readers into an immersive landscape that blends empirical fact and illusion, mixes the physical and spiritual, and probes the space between consciousness and unconsciousness. The stories bring readers to a place that is both readily familiar yet unmappable, highlighting the inherent unreliability in our relationship to the world around us. Delightful, enchanting, and full of mystery and secrets, Can Xue’s newest collection shines a light on the forces that give contours to the visible terrain we acknowledge as reality.

About the Author

Can Xue is the pseudonym of the renowned avant‑garde author Deng Xiaohua. Her previous works include Five Spice Street, Vertical Motion, The Last Lover, Frontier, and Love in the New Millennium. Can Xue was longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2019.

Rachel’s Thoughts: When I’m reading through this longlist, I always hope that I’ll get to read something completely different to my normal reading, something that shows me the world through a different perspective. With themes of home (or loss/lack of home), this qualifies.

Can Xue’s stories are dream-like and nightmarish – nothing ever quite makes sense, the point is always just out-of-reach. And yet I keep coming back, poking at them, trying to figure them out. I feel like I’ve spent the last week in (or under) the slums with these people and creatures, exploring their homes and their quirks, and I have a strange mixture of disgust and affection for them. And every story, I come away with questions, like ‘Why do you stay?’

All in all this is a very strange reading experience. I’d like to read this again.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 5/5
Character development: 4/4
Plot development: 3/4
Enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 18/20

Tracy’s Thoughts: A collection of speculative fiction stories, the longest is more of a novella.

Can Xue is a talented writer- her imagination is truly frightening! The novella/story Story of the Slums sets the mood, with a huge rat (I think) as narrator. Another story has a cicada as protagonist.

I must say that I enjoyed the concepts of the stories. Sometimes the execution could get, well, strange. Even stranger than having a first person rat narrator. There was a lot of allegory- some really obscure. But there was something that drew me in and kept me reading.

Writing quality: 3.5/5
Originality: 5/5
Character development: 3.5/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 1.5/2
Total: 16.5/20

When We Cease to Understand the World 19/20
At Night all Blood is Black 18/20
The Dangers of Smoking in Bed 18/20
Summer Brother 17.5/20
I Live in the Slums 17.25/20
The Pear Field 17/20
The Employees 16/20
The Perfect Nine 16/20
Wretchedness 13.5/20
An Inventory of Losses 12.7/20
The War of the Poor 11.25/20

Have you read this one? What did you think?

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