As of July 7, 2022, Penguin is launching a collection of novels “to change the way we think about — and act upon — the most urgent story of our times: the climate crisis”:
” VINTAGE EARTH is a collection of novels to transform our relationship with the natural world. Each one is a work of creative activism, a blast of fresh air, a seed from which change can grow.
The books in this series reconnect us to the planet we inhabit and must protect.
Discover great writing on the most urgent story of our times. “
Two of the novels are translated from the Chinese: The Man with the Compound Eyes (複眼人 吳明益 著), translated by Darryl Sterk, and Last Quarter of the Moon (额尔古纳河右岸 迟子建 著), translated by me, Bruce Humes.
It’s nice to see translated Chinese writing highlighted for its topical content, and not simply because it is “about” China. And of course, being presented alongside the likes of Ian McEwan’s Solar doesn’t hurt.
Last Quarter of the Moon was first published in 2013, and has been translated into several major languages: Arabic (الربع الأخير من القمر); Dutch (Het laatste kwartier van de maan, translated direct from); French (Le dernier quartier de lune); Italian (Ultimo quarto di Luna); Japanese (アルグン川の右岸) ; Korean (《어얼구나 강의 오른쪽》); Spanish (A la orilla derecha del Río Argún) and Swedish (På floden Arguns södra strand).
Narrated in the first person by the aged wife of the last chieftain of an Evenki clan, the Right Bank of the Argun — as it is more appropriately dubbed in Chinese — is a moving tale of the decline of reindeer-herding nomads in the sparsely populated, richly forested mountains that border on Russia.
At the end of the twentieth century an old woman sits among the birch trees and thinks back over her life, her loves, and the joys and tragedies that have befallen her family and her people. She is a member of the Evenki tribe who wander the remote forests of northeastern China with their herds of reindeer, living in close sympathy with nature at its most beautiful and cruel.
Over the last three centuries, three waves of outsiders have encroached upon the Evenki’s isolated way of life: the Russians, whose warring and plundering eventually pushed the Evenki down from Siberia across to the southern (“right”) bank of the Argun River, the tributary of the Amur that defines the Sino-Russian border; the Japanese, who forcibly recruit their men into the ranks of the Manchukuo Army; and the Han Chinese of the People’s Republic, who fell the forests that are crucial to the survival of reindeer, outlaw hunting, and eventually coerce the Evenki to leave the mountains for life in a “civilized” permanent settlement.
If you think you might be interested in this classic piece of eco-fiction, I heartily recommend you read this:
Note: This often-viewed and evocative Afterword can only be accessed here in English; in both 2013 and 2022, the publisher has decided — heaven knows why! — not to include it in the published novel . . .