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Notes of a Crocodile (NYRB Classics) Paperback – May 2, 2017
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The Amazon Book Review
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“[A] thrillingly transgressive coming-of age story by the Taiwanese writer Qiu Miaojin. Bonnie Huie's translation is nothing short of remarkable—loving, even; one gets the sense that great pains have been taken to preserve the voice behind this lush, ontological masterwork...First published in 1994, [it] is in many ways a futuristic text, as it contains conversations about identity that are happening now - and ones that have yet to. It is refreshing to read a novel that so frankly examines patriarchy, misogyny, homophobia, gender normativity and capitalism—especially one that howls so freely with pain." —Leopoldine Core, The New York Times Book Review
"Billed as a cult classic and crafted with a unique mix of notes, diary entries, short scenes, and satire, this updated translation will shed more light on the work of a renowned but little-known author." —Sara Novic, Elle
"Her prose is in turns satirical, obsessive, and devastating, and explores 'closetedness' amidst consuming romantic love, isolation, and crippling mental illness…Qui’s work has, in a way, fulfilled what both the narrator Lazi and the crocodile are yearning for throughout the book: communion and solace with like-minded creatures." —Liz von Klemperer, Lambda Literary
"Miaojin's willingness to show youth at its most self-absorbed and earnest is part of the book's appeal. Most readers—perhaps especially those who identify as LGBTQ—will see themselves somewhere in Lazi's agonized social circle. But Miaojin also reminds her readers at every turn how truly isolating otherness can be...A meandering, but moving, look at queer identity.” —Kirkus Reviews
"Despite a short life, Qiu Miaojin has left behind a notable legacy in contemporary Chinese literature. Her writings, along with her tragic death, have shed new light on the predicament gays and lesbians faced in Taiwanese society.... At the heart of Qiu’s work lies the author’s recognition that the nature of passion and love intensifies human existence in both its most beautiful and its most monstrous moments." —Li-hua Ying, Professor of English, Bard College
"Qiu Miaojin...had an exceptional talent. Her voice is assertive, intellectual, witty, lyrical, and intimate...her works continue to command a huge following among college-educated lesbians in Taiwan, for she gave beautiful and soulful expression to the experiences of that community." —Tze-Lan D. Sang, Professor of Chinese literature and media studies, Michigan State University
About the Author
Qiu Miaojin (1969–1995)—one of Taiwan’s most innovative literary modernists, and the country’s most renowned lesbian writer—was born in Chuanghua County in western Taiwan. She graduated with a degree in psychology from National Taiwan University and pursued graduate studies in clinical psychology at the University of Paris VIII. Her first published story, “Prisoner,” received the Central Daily News Short Story Prize, and her novella Lonely Crowds won the United Literature Association Award. While in Paris, she directed a thirty-minute film called Ghost Carnival, and not long after this, at the age of twenty-six, she committed suicide. The posthumous publications of her novels Last Words from Montmartre and Notes of a Crocodile made her into one of the most revered countercultural icons in Chinese letters. After her death in 1995, she was given the China Times Honorary Prize for Literature. In 2007, a two-volume edition of her Diaries was published, and in 2017 she became the subject of a feature-length documentary by Evans Chan titled Death in Montmartre.
Bonnie Huie is the recipient of a PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant. Her rendition of Motojirō Kajii’s story “Under the Cherry Blossoms” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and she has also translated the work of Tatsuhiro Ōshiro. Her writings and translations appear in The Brooklyn Rail, Kyoto Journal, and Afterimage. Huie lives in New York.
Top customer reviews
I must confess to being confused by the book's structure for a large chunk of its relatively modest length. Qiu Miaojin moves back and forth between two narratives, with their only connection being thematic. The first story is the one I was expecting from the publisher's description: that of "the coming-of-age of a group of queer misfits discovering love, friendship, and artistic affinity while hardly studying at Taiwan's most prestigious university." The second story provides the novel's title: a crocodile wearing a human suit, à la the dinosaurs in Eric Garcia's Anonymous Rex series, muses on how people vehemently advocate both for and against crocodiles, despite knowing nothing about them and not even realizing that at least one crocodile lives and works among them. At the risk of stating the obvious, the common theme is separation, isolation, and the tendency of some people to make authoritative statements about a group whose experiences they do not share:
"In the final analysis, our knowledge and understanding of crocodiles is but a microorganism on a fingernail. But in the customary practice of advanced nations, we will safeguard information within the grip of our metal jaws, holding on as if our lives depended on it."
Notes of a Crocodile concludes with a message which should be emblazoned on the blackboard in every classroom in the world, from preschool to university:
"The deeper you love, the deeper your compassion grows and the more you realize that the other suffers just as you do. When all is said and done, human civilization is ugly and cruel, and the only thing to do is to raze it to the ground so it becomes visible that kindredness is the one true constant in relationships."
Just imagine the world that might result.
This review was based on a free ARC provided by the publisher.
On every page, there are hints of what a special soul the author was - what her influences were - Nietzsche, etc., and how alone and stuck she must have felt, growing up in Taiwan under quasi-martial law. How she must have soaked up Western and Japanese literature as a way out, as a way of imagining an alternate life.
The crocodile metaphor is cute, ironic, philosophical, and deeply cutting satire, all at once. I laughed so hard every time the crocodile character interjected herself into the story.
Great translation - so good you completely forget how different Chinese is from English. I had feared some parts are just untranslatable but this translator has an excellent knowledge of both modern Chinese and American and European cultures, and does a perfect job conveying the narrator / author's knowledgeability about the greater world, at the same time giving an idea of Taiwan as a claustrophobic, backwards, depressing, and stifling environment for a young female intellectual who happens to be gay and is not from a rich family.