by Zhang Yueran
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Pub Date 04 Oct 2022 | Archive Date 04 Oct 2022
Zhang Yueran, one of China's most accomplished young female writers, debuts in the English-speaking world with Cocoon, an upmarket literary thriller, which delves into the complexity of a crime set during the Cultural Revolution, in one of contemporary China’s most chaotic years
Cheng Gong and Li Jiaqi go way back. Both hailing from dysfunctional families, they grew up together in a Chinese provincial capital in the 1980s. Now, many years later, the childhood friends reunite and discover how much they still have in common. Both have always been determined to follow the tracks of their grandparents’ generation to the heart of a mystery that perhaps should have stayed buried. What exactly happened during that rainy night in 1967, in the abandoned water tower? Zhang Yueran’s layered and hypnotic prose reveals much about the unshakable power of friendship and the existence of hope. Hers is a unique fresh voice representing a new generation of important young writers from China, shedding a different light on the country’s recent past.
Zhang Yueran is one of China’s most influential young writers. A literary celebrity since her early twenties, she is a prominent figure in the “post-80” (i.e. born after 1980) generation, known for both her novels and her editorship of the journal Newriting. Her novel Cocoon is her first work published in English.
Written by China’s most accomplished young female literary celebrity
Zhang’s is the voice of the post-eighties generation of Chinese youth
An upmarket literary thriller and novel of friendship
Explores the generational gap in China and lasting effects of the Cultural Revolution on modern families
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Average rating from 48 members
I didn't know what to expect from this book but I really enjoyed it, although it wasn't an easy read. It was well written with well developed characters and a storyline that was compelling with a dual narrative that kept me gripped until the end.
One word to describe this book is that is challenging. It explores friendship, death and generational trauma in a very intriguing way. Narrated by the two characters looking back at each other’s version of their family history that is bound by an incident, it kept me on the edge as to how it would end.
After finishing the book, I find myself looking for the meaning of ‘Cocoon’. Google says in Chinese,it means ‘a protected place’. I guess Jacqui and Gong had cocooned their version of their family history.
*Thanks to Net Galley and World Editions for allowing me to read and review an ARC (for the english translation)of this book.
A stress-filled, somewhat depressing story for me. That could be the definition of thriller in some ways, so take that as you will. This is well written and suspect many thriller fans will like it.
I really appreciate the free ARC for review!!
Our families and memories shape who we are. Not an easy read - a group of people brought together by the same neighborhood and friends, the history of China spanning from the cultural revolution to the 90s.
Thank you to World Editions and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Zhang Yueran’s latest work, Cocoon, follows protagonists Li Jiaqi and Cheng Gong who reunite for the first time in 18 years after Li Jiaqi’s grandfather passes away. Both reveal how the decisions that their grandparents and parents made impacted their lives profoundly during the 1980s. The events that transpire here cover World War II, the Cultural Revolution, and the mid-1990s. Zhang employs highly descriptive writing to set the stage for her narrative, using locations and conversations with personal significance to enrich her characters. Her protagonists’
respective points of view drive the story and the dialogue employed is purposeful, highlighting the relationships that these characters cultivate throughout their youth with their families and the people they meet. This novel is emotive and ambitious in its multi-generational approach, strengthened by Jeremy Tiang’s concise and thoughtful translation. Cocoon invites readers to reflect on individual perceptions of love and how to make amends with the past to take responsibility for one’s decisions. Look forward to Zhang's newly translated novel in bookstores on October 4th, 2022.
Well written well developed a story that drew me in.A mYSTEY WITH characters that are well developed come alive .A BOOK an Author II will be rec.#netgalley #woTLdEdITIONs
There is something about Jeremy Tiang's translations that just pulls you in, no matter what the book is about, who it was written by and what genre it is. I always feel like I am pulled into the text, as if someone was saying to me "read this, it's important". It happened with "Cocoon" too.
From the very early pages the text wrapped me inside itself, like a cocoon indeed. It's not comforting, but suffocating. It is in many ways familiar - I grew up in post-communist Poland and many of the situations, the atmosphere of a slowly opening market, the lingering shadow of the decayed Soviet Russia - I felt it myself, or at least through the stories of my parents.
I didn't know how I think about "Cocoon" for quite some time. I didn't like the protagonist, just like the protagonists didn't like the world around them. There is a lot of (self-)destruction: pain, violence, sadness, disenchantment. I spent few good days trapped inside the worlds of Li Jiaqi and Cheng Gong. I would love to read more by Zhang Yueran in the future.
I enjoyed this book although I didn’t always find it easy to read and did find that I had to concentrate quite hard to keep up with the characters as there were lots of them and the unfamiliar Chinese names added to this issue
I found the feelings and relationships were described in minute well observed detail and this universality of human experience made the book ultimately accessible and worth persevering with .It’s a long novel and I think if it weren’t for this I may have given up
I loved the way way the book hung episodes of memory upon smells as these are so evocative and powerful for us all
The book looked in detail at the way that we subject people we love to indignities which we might have spared mere acquaintances as it followed 2 childhood friends into adulthood and beyond
The desire to know our parents as people in their own right is again universal and a core string throughout the narrative
The translation is beautifully written whilst leaving the book still with its very strong modern Chinese voice
I also enjoyed the relationships between people of sometimes very different ages .I was struck at one stage that a relationship between a young girl and older man seemed largely platonic and that you didn’t often see this in novels .However very quickly after this I discovered that my initial reading of their friendship had been possibly bet wrong .This complexity of relationships was unique and interesting
I read an early copy on NetGalley Uk it is published in Uk ion 4th October 2022
"When a dictator dies, they leave behind a terrifying void. Resistance had become our whole lives, and we didn't know how to do anything else. Freedom had fallen from the skies, and we could only hold it like some complicated object we had no idea how to handle".
Cocoon is a marvellous story which switches between the perspective of two key protagonists - Li Jiaqi and Cheng Gong - two seemingly separate individuals whose lives are secretly deeply entwined, spanning back generations. Their history, and their fate, is a result of the Cultural Revolution and the struggle sessions, combined with modern day problems including social class and financial barriers.
"At peace, yet also useless. If a pawn chooses not to cross the board, what further use is it?"
There is so much grief throughout the story, with no clear 'villain'. As secrets are discovered and revelations are made, individuals who previously appeared selfish or thoughtless are suddenly a victim of their circumstance and just trying to make the best out of the cards they were dealt. Cocoon is a heavy read and there is no happy ending or resolution, despite how deserving each individual would be of one. The story is a bleak reminder of how in the game of life, we're all pawns.
"Knowing I was only born as the result of a political slogan has always made me feel my life was a bit random"
The seemingly random nature of individuals thrown together is heartbreaking as each tie is unravelled and their role in the story becomes clear. There is so much misdirected sorrow and hurt, its almost shocking to see the domino effect every single action really holds. The story highlights how we're all in a highly sensitive ecosystem and there are consequences for every action.
I recommend the book strongly, but warn you to prepare to hurt.
Thank you NetGalley for the Arc.
Cocoon is a challenging story of friendship, family and their secrets while growing up in the shadow of the Cultural Revolution in China. So many families were impacted by this and those of the main characters Chang Gong & Li Jiaqi are no exception.
Jiaqi returns to her hometown after many years away to be with her esteemed Grandfather in his last days. She reconnects with childhood friend Chang Gong as they explore their youth and the pivotal events and relevations before their separation as friends.
This is challenging read in both it's pace and the themes touched on in the novel particularly multi generational trauma as reflected in Jiaqi's relationship with her father, which is often heartbreaking and the complicated relationship between her father and her grandfather. Jiaqi and Gong's families are light and day. Jiaqi comes from an esteemed family with her Grandfather a highly respected party member and surgeon. Gong's family are overshadowed by an incident that has left his grandfather in vegetative state and his family viewed as social pariahs.
This is a very very slow paced book but I found it engrossing however would definitely not consider it a thriller. The translation is beautifully written and does not take from the story at all
never thought that i will stick to this book so close and finished it quite fast but the book has a very slow pace. i guess it's kinda relatable that made me stay.
the timeline was supposed to be in 80s but it wasn't really appeal nor the 90s. it's not about the timeline nor historical events happened in China, it is more onto daddy/mommy issues that was faced by these MC. lacking of belonging sense & parental love has made me stay. it was sad and depressed and it got better with lyrical prose. the lack of parental love theme is so appealing that i can taste the suffer the MC facing. all that i wished that in the end Chang Gong & Li Jiaqi will have the happy ending that they deserve and they finally had it with each other. I know that I was rooting for both of them to be together because they were childhood friend and they know what's hurting each other and healed each other.
Li Jiaqi, the Mc that kinda close to my heart because the characters were written so well till I can feel their pain. I wish to know more on historical events that happened during Culture Revolutions. it's kinda lacking in this book. I'm pretty sure only China can related this so well
“Cocoon” by Zhang Yueran is a complex, lyrical and thoughtful novel – an exploration of the theme of memory and time, set against the backdrop of the recent history of China, particularly the Cultural Revolution.
The novel’s narrative is bookended by a frame story set in the present. Li Jiaqi returns to the town where she was brought up. Her ailing grandfather Li Jisheng is dying, and although he is uncommunicative, she spends his last days with him. Li Jisheng is a mysterious figure – a widely-respected doctor and part of the “establishment”, his past harbours unsavoury mysteries which led to a long-running rift between him and his son Li Muyuan, Li Jiaqi’s father. Jiaqi is obsessed with her family history, and particularly that of her professor father, who abandoned his wife and calling to reinvent himself as a businessman in Beijing. Jiaqi’s return to her roots is, in many respects, the final station on a long journey of (self) discovery. To conclude her investigation, she seeks out Cheng Gong, a childhood friend. These two characters – and their respective families – are connected by a dark thread involving a macabre crime which happened way back in 1967. The main part of the book is divided in segments alternating between the respective narratives of Li Jiaqi and Cheng Gong, both recounted in the first person.
This novel has a strange aura to it, a beguiling mixture of bleakness and nostalgia rendered in poetic prose. It presents an array of broken characters, a panorama of generations marked by cultural upheavals. Yet, it never feels cynical or nihilistic, and, against all odds, it conveys a sturdy belief in the redeeming aspects of friendship and love.
A word of warning though – “Cocoon” is touted as a “literary thriller”, but is more “literary” than “thriller”. This is one of those works which puts you immediately in the middle of things, and expects you to make the effort to piece together the clues and information provided. Indeed, it was only after the half-way mark that the parts of the puzzle started falling into place. Also, I felt that the storylines of the different families were (presumably purposely) so similar, that at times I had some difficulty distinguishing between the various strands of the plot. The final credits section says that Jeremy Tiang’s masterful translation has been “slightly abridged from the original, in agreement with the author”. I wonder whether the longer version would have made it any easier to follow. In any case, this was an intriguing and poignant novel.
This book is a bit like a Chinese Sally Rooney. It's mostly focussed on the relationship between two young people, alternating between chapters from each of their viewpoints. It's fair to say they are both at the damaged/depressed/introspective end of the scale, and struggling to come to terms with some traumatic events in their respective family histories, and Chinese society more generally (the Cultural Revolution etc). As a result, this isn't a book where you'll find much laughter or joy. And sometimes I just wanted everyone in it to lighten up a bit and appreciate life a bit more, or to see a slightly less bleak take on human nature. But it is still beautiful and elegantly written, and I think (on my take at least), there was a bit of hope in the ending. I'd be interested to read more by this author.
This is an extraordinarily beautiful book and one of my favourites of the last few years. The story is original and utterly compelling. Although the book evokes the Chinese Cultural Revolution and its after-effects, because of the delicacy of the writing, this never gets in the way of the story. For me the book is much more a story of the universal themes of growing up, dysfunctional families and a desperate yearning for belonging and parental love. I was completely immersed from start to finish by the exquisite and lyrical prose. The writing and translation are first-rate. Highly recommended. With deep gratitude to World Editions for a no obligations advance copy.
I read 50 percent of the book, but couldn't seem to get into it. I kept waiting for the two characters to become adults and to see what their lives were like. Maybe, if I'd continued reading I would have found out.
This book is definately a challenging read. Sometimes it is heart warming and sometimes it a bit dark but what an enthralling plot! The dual perspective does justice to the story and keeps the reader hooked.
Absolutely recommend this one.
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