Access: Thirteen Tales is an amazing collection of short stories by Xu Xi. Set in Hong Kong and among those in the vast Chinese diaspora, the stories are mostly about women, the ties of family, the inescapable consequences of deep enculturation, the pervasive power of money, sex and loneliness. Some of the women are highly educated and successful and some barely eke out a living. The collection is also very much about what it means to be a Hong Kong Chinese in the opening decades of the 21th century. The people in the stories are very real. Xu Xi makes them come alive for us in just a few pages. We understand the people in these stories and how they got to where they are in their lives. Xu Xi's stories show literature can also help us understand how we got to where we are in our own lives. Xu Xi helps us see the universal in the very particularized people in her stories.
I will spotlight two of the thirteen short stories in the collection so readers can get a feel for her work. Most of the stories are between ten and twenty pages long.
"Space" is a brilliant short story about a never married sixty seven year old woman with no children living by herself in Hong Kong. Her brother has recently died and her nephew and his wife want her to move to America to live with them. As the story opens, it was exciting and very interesting to learn the aunt has a close near intimate Internet relationship with a seventy year old American living in New York City who is a self taught Sinologist. Her nephew Francis and his wife are in Hong Kong for a visit. They are doing all they can to persuade Aunt Kar-Li to move to America. They tell her they have a big room for her and also mention a retirement community. Kar-Li suspects their motives may be impure as she thinks they want her to sell her apartment in Hong Kong to invest in the three restaurants they own. There is a great deal in this story. It deals in a very subtle fashion with the conflicts between older Chinese and their younger relatives in terms of adherence to Confucian values. The aunt knows that she is in part going to be used by her nephew and his wife once she moves but the family ties are just too powerful for anyone to really try to throw away.
"Lady Day" is a really amazing story about a post operative transsexual prostitute. The story line is very interesting and kept my attention level very high. This is a story about deception of the self and the other. About the power of sex to dominate and the reverse side of this when a person transforms into a commodity. All swords seem to be two sided in the world of Xi Xu. "Lady Day" is fairly explicit in its descriptions of what the clients want her to do. It is in a way a woman's fantasy story about how the life of prostitute works out when things goes very well. Of course the story ends before Lady Day's looks begin to fade and we know the dark side of this fantasy world will take over soon.
The people in these stores are often defined by their jobs. Almost everyone works hard and is very money driven. I was glad to see that many of the women in the stories are very high achievers both in commerce and education.
Xu Xi is from Hong Kong. She has published nine books. She won an O Henry prize for best short story. (It is included in the collection.) She has been a distinguished visiting writer at the University of Iowa. She teaches at the City University of Hong Kong as well as the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Access Thirteen Tales will be published on November 25, 2011. There will be a book launch party November 25 at 630PM at the City University of Hong Kong to which all readers are invited.
(There are additional details about the launch event and about the very interesting and highly impressive career of Xi Xu on her web site.)
I was provided a complementary e-book of this work.
Readers of the stories of Jhuma Lahiri will relate very well to these stories. I am very glad I had the opportunity to read the work of Xi Xu and endorse her work without reservation.
Here is a link to the publisher's web page.
Thank you for this passionate and thoughtful review. Xu Xi is such an important writer for Hong Kong and I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts on her latest collection.
Great review as per usual & an interesting collection of tales. Funnily enough I've just finished a book set in Hong Kong "The ghost of Neil Diamond, which I enjoyed.
PS, don't know if you know or even if it's relevant to the tale but Lester Young's nickname for Billy Holiday was Lady Day.
Parrish Lantern-good spotting on the "lady day" reference-I think it might be spot on-
Just saw a movie on Netflix instant which came to mind as I read about the first story - about a father who comes to America to visit his daughter. They haven't seen each other for many years. It focuses on the cultural differences between China and America, but goes further to focus on parents and children as well, offering a glimpse into the life of an older Iranian woman. It is called A Thousand Years of Good Prayers.
I am interested in Hong Kong, so I thank you for this.
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