China Mountain Zhang

China Mountain Zhang - Maureen F. McHugh

#89 – 2013#

“Dao ke dao, fei chang dao” = “The way that can be spoken is not the way” (page 220).

This simple aphorism exemplifies the tone of this novel. Lots of things left unsaid, but at the same time, because of that, conveying lots of meaning.

I’ve just finished this astonishing novel and I’m still trying to deal how it made feel.

One of the things that impressed me the most was McHugh’s refusal to let her secondary characters remain two dimensional pictures in the novel. It included several parallel stories apart from Zhang’s story, each one of them quite above average writing-wise.

China Mountain Zhang is a quiet, and beautiful novel. Although it’s not about heroes, it tells stories of ordinary, everyday fortitude, the kind we need to get out of bed and live our lives. McHugh impregnates each of Zhang’s decisions and actions with significance, reminding us of the momentousness of day-to-day life.

China Mountain Zhang is a clear example of speculative fiction (SF) that particularly interests me. It’s one of the few types of SF I have much interest in reading these days, ie, the story of ordinary people doing ordinary things in an imagined world.

My love for it was due to the fact that most SF plots required heroes and villains to commit actions that affected many people, and sometimes entire worlds and universes. This has always been one of weakest characteristics for Speculative Fiction. But maybe its lack of character depth is also its strength. Truth be told at the beginning I didn’t read SF because of the characters, but because of the worlds they inhabited. That was what fascinated me. Later as grew old, my interests started to shift.

China Mountain Zhang’s main accomplishment that so impressed me was its ability to portray a sense of intimacy, of merging this reader's consciousness with the imagined consciousness of the characters (Zhang,San-xiang, Martine, Alexys, etc) and allowing me a rapport that is impossible in reality. This is certainly not the only thing that above-average-SF can do, but it is one of the few things it can do better than any other type of genre literature I know of (I’m thinking “mainstream” literature here).

What a way to finish 2013. This novel is going to be everlasting in my mind… It transcended SF and worked on many levels.