Shadow of the Hunter
by Su Tong (Translated by James Trapp)
This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Pub Date 28 May 2020 | Archive Date 08 Aug 2020
Alain Charles Asia Publishing, Sinoist Books
The internationally acclaimed author of Raise the Red Lantern returns with a dysfunctional vision of romantic obsession linked to Chinese fables, where the unwitting predator finds itself as the prey.
Prey, Predator, Predator, Prey.
On this street, the hunters are also the hunted.
The people of China tell of an ancient tale, where the mantis hunts the cicada, unaware of the yellow bird behind him. In a small corner of her many cities, a random act of violence sets off a spinning top, entwining the lives of three people.
Baorun, the compulsive bondage expert, is forever aided and abetted by Liu Sheng, a brash troublemaker, to indulge in his obsessions; and the lady Fairy Princess, ever youthful, becomes the target of the pair’s escalating antics.
As the years pass, many things begin to change, but in the dysfunctional world of a mental hospital at the end of Red Toon Street, just who is prey, and who is predator?
About the Author
Su Tong, pen name of Tong Zhonggui, was born in Suzhou, East China in 1963. He rose to international acclaim after his book Wives and Concubines was made into a blockbuster film Raise the Red Lantern by director Zhang Yimou, featuring actress Gong Li. The film won a BAFTA award in 1993 for best non-english language film. He was the joint winner of the prestigious Mao Dun Literature Prize for his novel Yellow Bird in 2015. His earlier novel The Boat to Redemption was awarded the Man Asia Literature Prize in 2009. Su Tong is a prolific and unconventional writer whose work explores the darker side of human nature. Having grown up in the Cultural Revolution,
Su Tong’s novels and short stories depict everyday life in 20th century China with a dark twist. In addition to his many striking novels, he has also written hundreds of short stories, many of which have been translated into French and English. He currently lives in Nanjing.
Average rating from 36 members
Thank you to Alain Charles Asia Publishing and NetGalley for the Advanced Reader's Copy! Available May 28 2020 Award winning author Su Tong's "Shadow of the Hunter" is in many ways a story retelling itself across Chinese landscape in time and space. The story unfolds in Red Toon Street at a mental institution where we meet our hero Baorun, a bondage savant using his skills to prevent his grandfather from digging up all the town's trees. When he meets the ethereal and esoteric Fairy Princess, the custodian's daughter, he falls in love instantly. With the help of his frenemy, Liu Sheng, he attempts to secure his love only to be rescinded many times. As the story deepens, we follow these three characters on their journey through life in rural China. I loved the complexity of Tong's characters, that not one is fully good or bad but somewhere in the middle. With an unique prosaic style, Tong enrapts his readers in an amusing tale.
First of all, my thanks to the publisher, ACA Publishing, for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. Su Tong is an established Chinese author who has written seven full length novels and over 200 short stories. Some of these have been translated into other languages, including English. He is best known outside China for his book Wives and Concubines which was made into the film Raise the Red Lantern (and, indeed, the book is often sold with this title now and the star of that movie, Gong Li, is name-checked in this novel). The history of the novel Shadow of the Hunter takes a bit of tracking down on the internet. Su’s Wikipedia entry says he was the 2015 co-winner of the Mao Dun Literature Prize for a book called Yellowbird Story. Follow the trail of Yellowbird Story for a while to discover the same book with the name The Tale of the Siskin (fair enough: a siskin is a predominantly yellow bird). Follow the siskin lead to find a translation into French called Le Dit du Loriot (The Oriole Says). Also fair enough as a golden oriole is, again, very yellow. This final title is perhaps the most helpful given that the book is <i>linked to the fable of the oriole, the mantis and the cicada</i> (publisher’s words). This fable leads to the Chinese proverb <i>The mantis stalks the cicada, unaware of the oriole behind</i> which is a warning not to pursue a narrow gain while neglecting a greater danger. And thus, poetically, we arrive at the English title here: Shadow of the Hunter. So, with this fable in our minds, we head into the novel. There are three parts to the story each with its own protagonist. But the lives of the trio are intimately connected by an act of violence that ends Part 1. Baorun is the focus of Part 1. He lives on Red Toon Street with his parents and his grandfather. Grandfather is another main character in the book, a sort of link between the old China and the new: the book is rarely overtly political but there are several comments and observations that relate to the transformation into a capitalist society. Grandfather’s story involves the loss of a soul, digging, snakes, photographs and a hospital. In parallel, Baorun’s story involves restraining people with ropes and knots and a desire to get to know Fairy Princess, a beautiful young orphan. When he meets Liu Sheng, there seems to be a chance for him to get to know Fairy Princess better, but events spiral out of control to end Part 1 with an act of violence that will dominate the rest of the book. Liu Sheng is the protagonist in Part 2 and he is dealing with the fall out from Part 1. Then Fairy Princess, by now known as Miss Bai, comes into focus for Part 3 as the repercussions of Part 1 continue to dominate the lives of all three members of the trio leading to a dramatic finale to the book. I have necessarily missed out a lot of the action in the book. Some of it is comedic, some is surreal (there are episodes of magic realism) and not all of it directly contributes to the story (which isn't a criticism as some of the asides are some of the most memorable parts of the book). In Part 1, there seems to be a kind of simplicity or innocence about the language. When a character suddenly uses the f-word it feels out of place. But, as the story darkens, so the language also becomes a bit more complex. For this reader, this was needed as I am not sure I would have wanted to read almost 500 pages in the same style as Part 1. There’s enough change in Parts 2 & 3 to mean the style doesn’t wear out its welcome. As our three protagonists switch from prey to predator and back to prey, all their lives are altered by that one violent act that means they share a past that won’t let go of them but will mark their actions and reactions for the whole of their lives.
Thank you Net Galley. Su Tong writes fascinating stories about human nature and Chinese life. I enjoy his style but find it disturbing at times. This is a story that builds slowly to its climax and keeps you engrossed to the end.
Every small matter in this book slowly builds up into events that are complex and most frighteningly, very realistic. Superstition is weaved seamlessly into everyday beliefs, thoughts and actions as well as consequences, but that doesn’t make it any less real. Sometimes the truth and the lies are mixed in the story, the truth of what happened and the lies the characters tell themselves. The storytelling is complex, the narrative passing between the three characters, but with the other two characters still very much present even if they aren’t physically there. The book begins with Baorun’s grandfather losing his soul, and I’d like to think that it ends with him getting his soul back, but anyway the story starts and ends with Grandfather, which is a nice but sad point. Grandfather is unwanted and shunted aside in the beginning and yet he still persists to the end of the story and is the only one who at least knows what he wants. He is the catalyst of the story, setting the plot running in its tracks. To tell the truth, he is easily one of the nicest characters in the story as he doesn’t mean anyone harm and is actually a peace-loving chap (although he wouldn’t say no to excitement now and then). The author, Su Tong’s bio at the end of the book says that his work explores the darker side of human nature which definitely exists and of which the author succeeded in bringing out in this book. The human nature, as this book portrays, is definitely complicated, dark, harsh and cruel with bits of calmness interspersed in between. There is no specific good or bad, which we should be familiar with by now, but this story brings it out by alternating between being delicate and being blunt, a tricky mix but one which feels rewarding to behold. I enjoyed this book, but it was a book laden with a fair amount of misery and can be intense so you’d probably want to calm down with a nice warm cup of tea and listen to some soothing music to smooth it over.