Review of “The Handsome Monk” by Tsering Döndrup

My review of “The Handsome Monk” by Tsering Döndrup, translated from the Tibetan by Christopher Peacock, has been published by The Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing. 

You can read the whole thing here

The author is something of a specialist in conjuring up vivid scenes using bodily fluids. “Piss and Pride” is a rather suspenseful story, centring on a retiree who must test his bladder control to the maximum to uphold the dignity of his people. In “Notes of a Volunteer AIDS Worker”, the narrator graphically details how he contracted the disease and what it is doing to his body.

In “Ralo”, the titular character is known for the prodigious amount of snot that he produces. Initially published in the early nineties, this story was later extended to novella length. It is not one of the tighter pieces but contains some very astute satire about how Western tourists see Tibet as “the last unspoilt holy land on Earth”.

The collection is at its strongest when characters are grappling with the moral implications of their own behaviour. Many of these involve the Tibetan people being dominated by the Han and succumbing to the kind of anguished compromises required to survive.

One of the most extraordinary of the stories is “A Show to Delight the Masses”, which carries on the Tibetan tradition of mixing prose and poetry in summing up the life of corrupt official Lozang Gyatso. Much of the narrative unfolds in a sort of celestial rap battle to decide whether the main character is a good person. Since his sins have included urinating in a monk’s mouth, the answer is somewhat self-evident, but the story is no less gripping for it.

Beyond the Wings: February 2019

This is the first edition of my personal email newsletter, which will be something like the individual equivalent of a corporate newsletter.

The title comes from a stanza in “The Insomniacs” by Adrienne Rich.

My voice commands the formal stage;

A jungle thrives beyond the wings—

All formless and benighted things

That rhetoric cannot assuage.

I find that most of my work, including essays, fiction and music, focuses on outsiders, weirdos, and goofballs. That is, people and things that exist ‘beyond the wings’ as opposed to centre-stage.

Output

This month I have mostly kept busy with the final semester of my MBA, plus exercise and Spanish classes, but I made a new music video. It is a love song and basically an attempt at transcribing “Song for Tom” by Fascinating Aïda into Chinese.

Fascinating Aïda are one of the best musical comedy troupes around, and they also have a lot of good serious songs, including “Old Home” and “Little Shadows”.

Activities

This month I attended three excellent activities involving Chinese writing. The first was a talk on women in Chinese literature by Zhang Lijia, author of the excellent “Lotus”, which is set at the turn of the millennium and about a Chinese prostitute who uses her earnings to support her brother’s education while trying not to get caught.

The second was a Surrealism in Fiction workshop by award-winning millennial writer Yan Ge, author of the novella “White Horse” and the novel “The Chilli Bean Paste Clan”. The third was a literary translation workshop with Helen Wang. In the middle of all this, I was accepted onto The Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing and am already working on my first book review for them.

The Wider World

The word racist has been used a lot this month. Michael Cohen accused Donald Trump of being a racist, but his testimony is unlikely to damage the president’s chances of being re-elected, at least not in-and-of itself.

Jussie Smollett is alleged to have paid two people to stage a racist attack on him. This seems silly because Liam Neeson may have done it for free. As Bill Burr pointed out, it’s a bit like those times when you lied to parents or teachers as a kid and the whole thing got wildly out of hand.

Speaking of race and speaking of showbiz, the Oscars were held in February. The list of winners appears to have partly redressed the lack of diversity and representation of the “Oscars-so-white” controversy of recent years.

I saw most of the contenders. “Green Book” was well-acted and watchable but undeserving. However, as Bill Maher correctly observed, director Peter Farrelly, whose credits include “There’s Something about Mary” and “Dumb and Dumber”, should have got a special Oscar just for growing up.

My MBA thesis will talk about the issue of diversity in the publishing industry. I closely followed the dispute on this subject between Lionel Shriver and Penguin Publishing last year. I am way too much of an on-the-fence wimp to publicly weigh in on the debate, but hopefully the thesis will add something of value to the conversation.

Cyberbullying

I have recently been working on a novella about a cyberbully who makes a woman’s life a misery. I developed a fascination with this issue when I encountered a sick libeller who went by the online username of iWolf.

I later found out his real name is Randal Foley. He has long refused to explain himself or engage me while communicating under his own name, so my only option is to be the bigger person, and make this video

https://studio.youtube.com/video/kL33Y4-cXRE/edit

Short Story: The 27 Club

My short story “The 27 Club” has been published at Fiction on the Web.

“They say there are two types of lyricist, those who write while overlooking a phosphorescent ocean, and those who write while staring at a blank wall. I always saw myself as one of the former, but that night, as I crouched over the windowsill scribbling in the notepad where I wrote all of my completed lyrics, the neon Shenzhen skyline refused to shine behind the evening shower…” You can read the rest here.