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Sheng Keyi was born in Hunan province in 1973 and lives in Beijing. Death Fugue is her sixth novel, and the second to be published in English translation, after Northern Girls (2012). It is a brave work of speculative fiction, a cross between Cloud Atlas and 1984, scathing in its irony, ingenious in its use of allegory, and acute in its understanding of the power of writing. The imagination that drives it is exuberant and unconstrained.
In a large square in the centre of Beiping, the capital of Dayang, a huge tower of excrement appears one day, causing unease in the population, and ultimately widespread civil unrest. The protest, in which poets play an important part, is put down violently. Haunted by the violence, and by his failure to support his girlfriend Qizi, who is one of the protest leaders, Yuan Mengliu gives up poetry in favour of medicine, and the antiseptic environment of the operating theatre. But every year he travels in search of Qizi, and on one of these trips, caught in a storm, he wakes to find himself in a perfect society called Swan Valley. In this utopia, as he soon discovers, impulse and feeling are completely controlled, and every aspect of life regulated for the good of the nation, with terrible consequences.
forest. The initial shock it had caused now turned to suspicion. Increasingly he came to feel that the allegations it contained regarding the real business of the nursing home were quite impossible. How could it be like that? The letter was full of deranged comments. He recalled the strange scene in the forest, but whenever he tried to expand his memory of it in an attempt to verify the experience and put it into perspective, it was like fishing for the moon in water. When he lowered a finger to
pretence. ‘The government is subjective. They don’t care about what people want.’ He looked at the brilliant wildflower behind Juli’s ear. It struck him that it would soon wither, and he felt pity for it. ‘Everything is free. What benefit could the government possibly have?’ Juli stared at him with a taunting attitude. ‘…What I mean is, simply put, it may not be quite what it appears on the surface. Furthermore, fifty years, just as a person’s in his prime…’ Mengliu hesitated. Suddenly coming
longer, then stood up and walked straight across to Juli’s room. He stopped in the small strip of light in the doorway, allowing it to split his body in half. The rhythm of his fingers on the door were like a bird pecking. When he got a response, he opened the door and let the light pour onto him. As he went into Juli’s room, he found himself insufficiently prepared. He was stunned, as if he was standing beneath the vast sky with the lake and mountains shimmering in the distance, and the foliage
and checked with his hand to see if the area around the wound was swelling. The skin was very hot to the touch. At this point two pairs of feet stopped in front of him, and their owners held a whispered conversation. ‘Darae, if pigs take an interest in art, how interesting can it be?’ ‘From a philosophical perspective pigs do not think, but if you want to know whether pigs think, maybe you should ask a pig…’ ‘Hi, Mr Yuan!’ The toes turned toward Mengliu. He straightened up, his head almost
and the depth of their insights about life. The wound on Mengliu’s leg had still not healed. In fact, it was just as they had said, regressing again after it had begun to improve. Now that she was Mengliu’s wife under the law, Rania used a mysterious potion every day to clean his wound, murmuring as she did so, as if she was saying a prayer before a meal. Since the absurdity of their wedding night, Mengliu had continued to struggle. All the way to the hospital he vowed not to submit to their