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New Yorker Fiction Reviews: "Victory" by Yu Hua

Each week I review the short fiction from a recent issue of The New Yorker...and by "each week" I
mean anywhere from once a week to once a month....


Issue: Aug. 26, 2013

Story: "Victory"

Author: Yu Hua

Plot: Set in China, a woman, Lin Hong, discovers her husband, Li Hanlin, is having an affair. She confronts him about it, but does not get the reaction she wants from him: that he would fall to his knees and beg her to forgive him. Instead, they engage in a frosty battle of wills, leading them almost to the divorce court; however, an almost benign incident involving Li Hanlin's lover forces them to realize how much they love each other and want to continue the marriage.

Review: This story is nearly a month old now, so I'll be blunt. I feel like this story would have meant a lot more to me, had more impact, if I were more familiar with Chinese culture and the expectations and demands placed on men and women in that culture.

The action in the story is all very subtle. Lin Hong and Li Hanlin wage a sort of "freeze-out" campaign against each other, each one hoping the other will fold without having to fight it out. This is something that, as a person coming from a more confrontational culture, I cannot understand. I'm fully aware of the fact that many cultures are more reserved and therefore interactions between people take on a subtle, delicate complexity that is not readily understood by the dunder-head American like myself. Okay, sure, but I still don't think that really came across either. I am left to infer that myself. There is a neat little twist at the end, however, I think it fails to make up for what this story lacks throughout the beginning and middle.

One redeeming quality is this story gives the reader a glimpse into the daily life of an average Chinese person. This is nice, and kind of refreshing, because all we ever hear about China is that they're this big, scary, evil country who is destined to dominate the world someday soon as the U.S. did for most of the 20th century. Well, that may or may not be true, but it's easy to forget that China is populated with 1 billion people who have daily lives, jobs, dreams, anxieties and who, for the most part, probably just want to live life in peace and comfort like 99.99999% of the people in the world.

If for no other reason than that, I'd say this story was worth the read. However, if you're looking for a story that's going to bring you to heights and depths of emotion in the space of 3,000 words...make you laugh, cry, bite your tongue, question your very existence....this ain't it. Sorry.

Comments

Anonymous said…
I do not think that this story is peculiarly East Asian, though having spent most of my life in that part of the world, I may relate to it better than the reviewer. Contrary to the enduring stereotype perpetuated in the West of the docile "Oriental" wife, Chinese women in particular can be adamantine...And don't forget that thanks to China's "one-child" policy, there are fewer females than males. The result is (further) wimpification..
Anonymous said…
I do not think that this story is peculiarly East Asian, though having spent most of my life in that part of the world, I may relate to it better than the reviewer. Contrary to the enduring stereotype perpetuated in the West of the docile "Oriental" wife, Chinese women in particular can be adamantine...And don't forget that thanks to China's "one-child" policy, there are fewer females than males. The result is (further) wimpification..

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