Qiu Xiaolong: Poetry in Prose
Excerpts from the interview by S.J. Rozan in the October/November 2002 issue of Mystery News
When I read Qiu Xiaolong's Death of a Red Heroine, I was enchanted. A graceful and leisurely book, written in English, it is the story of Shanghai Police Bureau Chief Inspector Chen Cao's attempts to solve a politically charged homicide.Like a Chinese scroll painting, the book reveals itself to have a variety of interpretations and meanings depending on where the viewer stands, and what she focuses on. From one angle, it's about Chief Inspector Chen's inner struggle to reconcile his two identities -- policeman and poet. From another, it's the story of the people of China to understand how to live in a society where the individual, after centuries of being discounted, is suddenly celebrated -- at least up to a point, though where that point is, is not clear. And then again, it's a travelogue through Shanghai -- and a police procedural. The book was nominated for the Edgar and won the Anthony for Best First Novel, and deserved both honors.
Now, with A Loyal Character Dancer, Qiu has given us an even more lyrically written, wide-ranging, bittersweet story of a case solved, but few happy endings. Qiu, who was born and raised in China, is a charming diffident man who came to the U.S. in 1989 and teaches at Washington University in St. Louis. He was gracious enough to answer some impertinent questions from me.
SJR: Crime fiction is not in the Chinese literary tradition. When and how did you discover it? What attracted you to this form?
QXL: You are right. There is no such genre as crime fiction in the Chinese literary tradition. There were a few Gongan novels, in which the official or judge is engaged with criminal investigation, but the focus is more on the upright and incorruptible official (the Judge Dee series by Robert Van Gulik are more or less based on these Gongan novels). For me, the influence came from the translation of the western tradition, like Sherlock Holmes. I began to read those translations in my middle school years, when those books were still forbidden, and I have since been a passionate reader of the genre....
SJR: What are you working on now?
QXL: I have been working on a novel of story sequence. Actually, I had started the project before I began writing Death of a Red Heroine. It unfolds around a Yoknapatawpha-like setting in Shanghai, consisting of over twenty independent yet interrelated stories, each for a particular year.
In the meantime, I've been working on the third book of Chief Inspector Chen series. It is a case with its background set in the Shanghai lane (long-tang) architecture.
SJR: If you weren't a writer and a teacher, what would you want to be?
QXL: I like fishing, but I don't know if I really want to be a professional fisherman.
SJR: Is there anything I haven't asked that you'd like to expound on?
QXL: As we have talked earlier, I am still a bit confused as to how I have started writing mysteries, and I'm now working on the third book. Perhaps another instance of "the ironic causalities of misplaced yin and yang." So I thank you for all the questions that make me think more about it.
S.J. Rozan is the author of the Bill Smith and Lydia Chin series. Winter and Night is her most current book.
Read the complete interview in the October/November 2002 issue of Mystery News