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Land of Big Numbers: Stories by [Te-Ping Chen]
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Land of Big Numbers: Stories Kindle Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 297 ratings

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Review

A spectacular work, comic, timely, profound. Te-Ping Chen has a superb eye for detail in a China where transformation occurs simultaneously too fast and too slow for lives in pursuit of meaning in a brave new world. Her characters are achingly alive. It's rare to read a collection so satisfying, where every story adds to a gripping and intricate world."
-Madeleine Thien, author of Booker finalist Do Not Say We Have Nothing

"An intricately constructed, tenderly observed collection-the sort of stories that skillfully transport you into the daily experience of characters so real, who speak to you with such grace and tangible presence, that you could almost reach out and touch them. Through the lens of these different voices, each vividly alive, Te-Ping Chen shows us how much life, loss, and quiet pleasure exists in the world, just out of view."
-Alexandra Kleeman, author of You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine and Intimations " --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

TE-PING CHEN's fiction has been published, or is forthcoming from, The New Yorker, Granta, Guernica, Tin House, and BOMB . She is a Wall Street Journal correspondent based in Philadelphia, where she writes about workplace issues. From 2014-2018, she was a Beijing-based correspondent for the paper covering politics, society, and human rights. Before that, she was a Hong Kong correspondent, covering the city's politics and pro-democracy movement. Prior to joining the Journal in 2012, she spent a year in China interviewing migrant workers as a Fulbright Fellow and worked as a China reporter for the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in DC.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Publisher

There’s a Carlos Fuentes line that’s always stuck with me: “Extreme attention is the creative faculty, and its condition is love.” Living there as a reporter, being immersed in the language and everything around me, meant paying a lot of attention, and that’s what led to this book.

Are there themes in the collection that carry through the full book? What unifies the pieces in Land of Big Numbers as a collection?

All the stories are linked in some way to China, of course. Beyond that, one of the themes in the first story, ‘Lulu’ – and I think the collection more broadly – is the different ways we try and make meaning as individuals. For Lulu, it’s becoming an online dissident; for her brother, becoming a professional video gamer. Elsewhere in the book, it’s a farmer building an airplane to win the respect of his fellow villagers, or as in the title story, a young bureaucrat bilking the government in pursuit of masculinity and self-worth.

One question that weighs on my mind a lot these days is what it’s like to grow comfortable, and even thrive, in a repressive system. It’s something you particularly see in the book’s final story, ‘Gubeikou Spirit,’ in which a group of commuters gets stranded in a subway tunnel and establish a cozy community they ultimately don’t want to leave. It’s also what inspired ‘Lulu’: I was interested in her story, but in some ways I was more interested in the experience of her brother, who is so much more ordinary and like the rest of us.

This is a book about China, and you are a Chinese-American writer. Did you always know you wanted to write about China?

No. To be honest, I chafe a little at expectations that I ought to write about China or stories that have to do with my ethnic identity. I grew up in Oakland, Calif, and I have always envied other writers’ seeming

freedom to tell stories that aren’t rooted in one particular experience. I love fiction and wanted to try writing short stories, and at the time I was living in Beijing and in a country that I know well. My hope is that the stories are just that – stories, though ones that happen to be set in China.

That said, I’m very grateful to have been able to live in China for as many years as I have and to have been a writer there. This year, all my American colleagues at the Wall Street Journal were kicked out of the country, along with reporters from the New York Times and the Washington Post. The chance to have lived there and gotten to channel any part of that experience into this book now feels like part of a lost world.

Throughout the collection you move between clear-eyed realism and tongue-in-cheek, satirical magical realism. What do each of those styles offer you, as a writer?

It’s often said that reality in China is stranger than fiction–certainly it is more outsized, surreal and outrageous than anything you’d expect to encounter, even in the pages of a novel. It wasn’t a deliberate decision to mix styles, but China is a place that seems to demand different tones to try and evoke both the absurdity and tragedy of life there–and also the tenderness.

As someone who’s written about China as a journalist, I’m used to writing about it in very sober terms. But it’s also a place I have incredible affection for, and think there’s so much joy and humor and wryness that can be found in living there, notwithstanding all the headlines. I wanted to try and capture that, as well.

Your background as a writer is primarily in journalism. What brought you to fiction? What is the origin story of this collection?

I’ve always loved fiction and poetry & had spent a long time working on a few things, none of them very good. While living in Beijing, I had been trying and failing to revise a novel I’d written years ago. One night when biking home from work, the phrase “Shanghai Murmur” came to mind, out of nowhere. The phrase stuck with me and I thought I’d try and write something new around it; it eventually became the title of one of the first short stories I wrote.

As a writer, I’m a little bit of a magpie. When I was living in China as a journalist, there were so many details that I wanted to put in stories and never did. The part of me that abhors waste wanted to find a place for them; the part of me that loves fiction kept musing on them and trying to find a way to give them life. Once I started writing about the country in a different genre there was so much that I had been storing up, it just came pouring out. It was liberating, and also really fun.

Who are some of your biggest inspirations as a writer?

As a child, I was obsessed with L. Frank Baum, L.M. Montgomery and C.S. Lewis, and spent a lot of time trying to imitate them. Enchanted lands and 19th-century heroines definitely exerted a strong pull on me growing up. I stopped reading fiction for awhile in college, but dove back in once I graduated, which just felt like such a homecoming, fiction is something I’m so deeply grateful for. There are too many writers to name as inspirations, but Richard Yates, Kazuo Ishiguro, Zadie Smith, Maile Meloy, Lesley Nneka Arimah and George Saunders are some who come to mind. When writing this collection, I also spent a lot of time with Jhumpa Lahiri’s stories, taking notes and trying to understand how they worked and why they were so magical.

Product details

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B081TVNPKS
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Mariner Books (Feb. 2 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 3675 KB
  • Text-to-Speech ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Screen Reader ‏ : ‎ Supported
  • Enhanced typesetting ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • X-Ray ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Word Wise ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 255 pages
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.3 out of 5 stars 297 ratings

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Customer reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5
297 global ratings

Top review from Canada

Reviewed in Canada on February 23, 2021
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Top reviews from other countries

Gabriel Stein
3.0 out of 5 stars Not bad
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 16, 2021
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Jacqueline H
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 22, 2021
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K.W.
2.0 out of 5 stars Too real to western readers, too fake to Chinese readers and people who know the real China
Reviewed in the United States on July 10, 2021
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22 people found this helpful
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sz
1.0 out of 5 stars Blatant bootlicking of racist west. Not talented as writer.
Reviewed in the United States on July 11, 2021
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12 people found this helpful
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Walter C. Schumann
5.0 out of 5 stars An Extraordinary Collection of Short Stories About Ordinary People Seeking to Live Meaningful Lives
Reviewed in the United States on February 14, 2021
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9 people found this helpful
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