Cover Image: Faces in the Crowd

Faces in the Crowd

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

I have had this book on my virtual shelf a while and was happy to finally get to it. I did not expect to enjoy it as much as I did! The author has a very simplistic style, and like the drawings that precede each short story, we are given caricatures of different people in a very effective manner. The translator has done an equally brilliant job of retaining a certain flavour to the narrations that did not keep reminding me that I was reading a translated work!
These are 36 stories, all not of exactly the same calibre but pretty entertaining in their own right. They delve into a lifestyle that no longer exists. The nostalgia of a 'simpler' time is very obvious in how the stories are held out to us to examine. Each character we encounter has a different speciality, and there is a whole spectrum of emotions associated with each chapter. 
Even though the stories are short, I could not read them all in one go. I had to pause between every couple of them and come back to them at a later stage. I did not outright laugh or chuckle or weep, and usually, that by itself determines my rating of the reading experience. This time, however, I rated it by considering the world it introduced to me, something that probably exists in very remote pockets of our ever-shrinking world and the ease of the read.
I would highly recommend this to anyone who likes picking books about people and relish well-translated works.
I received an ARC thanks to NetGalley and the publishers but the review is entirely based on my own reading experience.
Was this review helpful?
Another brilliant translated work. A work-well deserving of praise and attention. Please bring us more world-class literature like this.
Was this review helpful?
Feng Jicai became a cultural figure as a founder of the Scar Literature movement, which directly confronted the traumas of the Cultural Revolution. Also an artist and a cultural scholar, his oeavre ranges a wide breadth of genres, and he is renowned for his work to preserve Chinese folk heritage. This book reflects that mission.

Faces in the Crowd is a collection of vignettes of late 19th and early 20th century life in Tianjin. In that era, it was a city on the cusp of history with rising conflicts between those who sought to protect traditional life and those who embraced modernism. These 36 tales of unique characters function as do the small pictures in a photographic mosaic with each small work of art helping to create a vivid picture of the city as it was a hundred years gone. It is a literary tribute to the history of the metropolis, yet it feels like a comfortable conversation with a friendly local eager to fill you in on the secrets, beauties, and inside jokes of their home.

I was reminded a a bit of Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster stories—both in the manner in which the stories center cleverness and social commentary, and as well in the tendency for this to feel repetitive to me. However, that is a somewhat subjective thing, and regardless of my longing for something that felt more varied and less expected, these stories were exceptionally well executed.
Was this review helpful?
This sounded interesting when I read the synopsis on Netgalley. Faces in the Crowd is a collection of thirty six short stories by Feng Jicai, all located in the port of Tianjing.

While I entered this collection with high hopes, hoping to get to know some unusual and delightful characters, I found myself unimpressed. Perhaps it’s because I’m already Chinese, but I felt that these characters were very normal. While I didn’t dislike any of the characters, the only on that stood out was the Yellow Lotus Divine Matriarch, a female Red Lantern who was said to a better fighter than any of the Boxers.

Perhaps the reason why I felt so uninvested with the stories is that they are really more of character sketches than stories. It’s normally about one or two anecdotes in that character’s life, but I didn’t really feel a sense of stakes when I read it. The stories, too, were largely unconnected and if it weren’t for the fact that this was a Netgalley book and I had nothing else to read at that time, I might not have finished it.

That said, the illustrations at the front of each chapter were delightful. It reminded me of the Chinese comics I used to read in the school library.

Overall, I didn’t hate this but I wasn’t very impressed with it either. Perhaps it’s because it’s the first time I’ve read Feng Jicai and am not familiar with his style, but I don’t really feel compelled to seek out more of his works based on this.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Netgalley.
Was this review helpful?
I really enjoyed this book of a diverse set of people from Tianjin. Tianjin is a city that I haven't had a chance to visit yet in China, but I hope to go one day. This little book gave me a little insight into the people and the culture before I get there. China is a very diverse country and the group of people in this book shows it well. Each story is accompanied by at least one drawing by Feng Jicai, and it helps to really capture the vibe of each of these unique people. The stories range from funny, to sad, to almost mythical in their atmosphere. I will say that if you're looking for stories about women from this place and time, there are only maybe three about women. Otherwise it's a man's world. Overall, it's a really great collection of short stories that I would recommend for any reader of Chinese literature. Thank you Netgalley and Sinoist books for the opportunity to read an e-ARC of this book. All thoughts and opinions in this review are my own.
Was this review helpful?
A series of vignettes about the people of a Chinese port city. A bit tedious and dull, unfortunately, although these are occasional gems of phrase and description.
Was this review helpful?
A varied collection of stories of the people who populated Tianjin at the early part of the 20th Century. Faces in the Crowd will transport you to another time and perhaps a new culture.
Was this review helpful?
I've been trying to read more and more Chinese literature while I live in Shanghai and it has really enriched my experience here. Many of them were set in Shanghai, so I decided to branch out when I saw Faces in the Crowd, which has given me a fascinating insight into a city I'm yet to visit: Tianjin. Thanks to Sinoist Books and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Faces in the Crowd presents the reader with 36 short tales, taken from the streets of Tianjin of the 19th and 20th century. This collection of stories feels like walking down the streets of old-school Tianjin, dropping in here or there to pick up a story. It's like sitting down in a restaurant or tea house and just listening to the conversations going on all around you. There are stories about food, business, reputation, disaster, and just stories about good old fun! Part of Feng Jicai's work is in preserving the old stories and traditions of China as it roars its way towards the future, and there's stories are a key part of that. Getting to know an enormous city like Tianjin through its people and its history is fascinating and Jicai's tone throughout makes it feel like a gentle, friendly visit.

My favourite story probably came towards the end and was called 'The Yellow Lotus Divine Matriarch'. It was a story about the Boxer Uprising, and especially about the Red Lanterns, the women's fighting groups, as the village women weren't allowed to join the men's groups. There is something very mythical and powerful about this story, the women and their leader, the titular Yellow Lotus Divine Matriarch'. It is also a story about resistance and the magic these women said to hold. Some of these stories, like 'The Swallow, Li San', felt very fable-like. Most of the stories, except three, are about men which was a little bit of a disappointment. However, there is still plenty to enjoy as Jicai excels at drawing character profiles despite the brevity of the stories. These stories made me curious to read his larger works and explore all he has to offer as both a writer and an artist.

Each story is prefaced by a small drawing, done by Jicai himself. He explains how after writing the stories the characters were still with him and that drawing them was like a final farewell. The drawings are simply but incredibly evocative and I really enjoyed revisiting the drawings after each story and rediscover it all anew. Jicai is unsentimental and direct in his stories, there is no pretense at trying to make anything appear better than it truly is. These stories are humorous and offer a whole new insight into what Tianjin was like in the previous centuries. It is so important to get these kind of insights and this kind of enjoyment into other kind of cultures and countries.

Faces in the Crowd is a brilliant collection of short stories, introducing the reader to the Tianjin of yore. Combining his stories with his drawings, Feng Jicai almost recreates this Tianjin for his readers and makes them hungry for more from them.
Was this review helpful?
I am grateful to NetGalley and Sinoist books for an opportunity to review the work of Feng Jicai. I cannot imagine a better introduction to such a skilled and relevant author/illustrator. The characters that make up this collection of literary and pictorial sketches are based in the late 19th and early 20th century Chinese port city of Tianjin. They are fully representative of their time and place in the world and at the same time completely recognizable as  individuals that I meet every day.  I plan to add Feng Jicai to my World Literature syllabus immediately and can see my students being as amused and touched as I have been by his work. 
*Note: Credit is also due to the English translator, Olivia Milburn. My response would certainly not have been as positive if her work did not convey such an engaging narrative voice.
Was this review helpful?
A collection of character based vignettes in Tianjin, China.  Average people, individuals, each given their own story.  Each recounted around a short, every day experience which manages to capture the essence of the character.  A nice glimpse into Chinese literature for those of us who are not that familiar with it.  Deftly done.
Was this review helpful?
I really enjoyed the stories in this collection. The characters themselves were the best part of stories. So many interesting characters within the city of Tianjin. I am really interested in reading other books by Feng Jicai in the future.
Was this review helpful?
Review of courtesy copy of Faces in the Crowd: 36 Extraordinary Tales of Tianjin, by Feng Jicai, translated by Olivia Milburn.

An evocative line drawing prefaces each character sketch in this fascinating collection by contemporary Chinese author, artist, and scholar Feng Jicai. He says: “Sometimes, even after I have finished writing, the characters are still vivid in my imaginations. I originally trained as a painter, and so I end up feeling that I need to draw them to get them out of my system.”

These drawings add depth and whimsy to characters who are exceptionally vivid and memorable. We meet principled doctors and downtrodden civil servants, duped antiquities experts, resourceful snack food and candy sellers, miracle workers, and generous gangsters.

Each story offers a universal tale of blunders and redemption, trickery and respect, inner and outer strength. Yet each paints an entirely Chinese picture, replete with everything from palanquins, emperors, scroll paintings and kung fu to chatang noodles and sweet potato wine.

Jicai’s voice in Olivia Milburn’s translation is colloquial and direct. It feels as if we’re listening to the author regale us with these stories. 

In addition to being amusing anecdotes, Jicai’s stories capture a piece of cultural history from his hometown Tianjin. Milburn points out in her Translator’s Afterword that it is a world that no longer exists. “However, as long as Feng Jicai’s writings are read and loved, the Tianjin that he has spent his life trying to save will not have been entirely lost.”
Was this review helpful?
It was a pleasure to read this fascinating and engrossing book. 
It was like travelling back in time to another place and discovering a world you didn't know.
An excellent book, highly recommended!
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.
Was this review helpful?
Through a diverse and eclectic cast of characters, late Qing and early Republic-era Tianjin comes vibrantly alive in this collection. Every one of these little stories is a pleasure and between that and their perfect digestible size, it's assured that you will be able to enthusiastically sweep through all thirty-six much faster than you'll expect.
Was this review helpful?
This is in many ways an eulogy and perhaps even an elegy to a time and place that is no more and will never be witnessed again. With 36 beautifully crafted short stories that are illustrated by himself, Feng Jicai paints in words a unique picture of the Chinese port city of Tianjin through its eclectic cast of diverse and wide ranging characters. 

known as a cultural scholar, Feng has campaigned to preserve urban culture and traditional villages and he has produced here a work that is a loving testament to the past. The stories are set in the late 19th and early 20th century a time when Tianjin was split between its old city and the foreign successions.  These foreign nations created many architectural reminders of their rule, notably churches and thousands of villas. One of the stories indeed concerns the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 which was a chiefly a revolt against the spread of Western and Japanese influence. 

Being a port city it is no surprise that the stories contain people from all backgrounds and some are moral tales. Some stories are funny and others are quite moving particularly the one about the tragic demise of a respected man who job is to detect forged art work. By reading this collection you will get a glimpse into a vanished world with all its eccentricities and colour.
Was this review helpful?
Prof. Julia Lovell has written, "I don’t think anyone in China would be surprised if Feng Jicai won the Nobel Prize for Literature – he’s the Chinese Charles Dickens, and his work has influenced at least four generations."

I have to confess to complete ignorance of Feng. Wikipedia gave me a little background:

"Born in Tianjin in 1942 to a family originally from Ningbo, Zhejiang province, Feng rose to prominence as a pioneer of the Scar Literature movement that emerged after the Cultural Revolution. He has published close to one hundred literary works that span a number of different topics, styles and genres. His major works include Ah!, The Carved Pipe, The Tall Woman and Her Short Husband, The Miraculous Pigtail, Three Inch Golden Lotus, Zebra Finches, Ten Years of Madness: Oral Histories of China's Cultural Revolution, and Extraordinary People in Our Ordinary World. His work has been translated into English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Dutch, Spanish, Korean and Vietnamese; internationally, more than forty of his literary works have been published.

Feng is also an artist. He has exhibited his artwork in China, Austria, Singapore, Japan and the United States, published several art albums, and is proficient in both Chinese and Western artistic techniques.

Feng is also a cultural scholar. He proposed and directed the Project to Save Chinese Folk Cultural Heritages, and over the last two decades he has campaigned to preserve urban culture and traditional villages."

Feng the artist is apparent in this book as each of the 36 short stories opens with a sketch of the main protagonist. It isn’t complicated and it isn’t fancy, but it is a lot of fun to read. Some of the stories are, effectively a joke leading to a punch line. Others are life lessons about the dangers of greed or some other warning. All are told simply and briefly.

The translator is Olivia Milburn and her Afterword provides some further insight into these stories:

"In Faces In The Crowd: 36 Extraordinary Tales of Tianjin, he takes an unsentimental look at the inhabitants of this city in the late 19th and early 20th centuries - a time when this great port city was in fact composed of two entirely different communities: the inhabitants of the old walled Chinese city, and the nine foreign concessions located to the south-east. During this period, Tinajin people found themselves living at the sharp end of global capitalism and colonial greed, and the city was a battleground between the forces of conservatism and those who enthusiastically embraced this new world. These tales provide a sometimes charmingly picaresque, sometimes chilling and bleak look at the way in which the residents of Tianjin adapted themselves in the struggle to survive."

Reading this particular collection, I didn’t get the impression I was reading literature created by a potential Nobel laureate, but I think this collection serves a whole different purpose to Feng's normal work. I say that having read nothing else he has written but based purely on what I have read about him in a brief bit of background research. I think it would be fascinating to read some of his longer, perhaps more serious, works.

3.5 stars rounded up for the "fun factor".
Was this review helpful?