[Fiction] An aunt recalls how she met her husband. (From Mo Yan, 2012 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.)
"‘If you want to know why I married Hao Dashou, I have to start with the frogs. Some old friends got together for dinner on the night I announced my retirement, and I wound up drunk – I hadn’t drunk much, less than a bowlful, but it was cheap liquor. Xie Xiaoque, the son of the restaurant owner, Xie Baizhua, one of those sweet-potato kids of the ‘63 famine, took out a bottle of ultra-strong Wuliangye – to honour me, he said – but it was counterfeit, and my head was reeling. Everyone at the table was wobbly, barely able to stand, and Xie Xiaoque himself foamed at the mouth till his eyes rolled up into his head.’"
PUBLISHED: Oct. 11, 2012
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3591 words)
On the lives of Soviet cosmonauts—and circus performers:
"During the first ninety-six-day Salyut mission in 1978, cosmonaut Yury Romanenko was apparently so mesmerized by the vastness of the cosmos that he stepped out to have a better look and forgot to attach himself with safety tethers to the space station. Fortunately his cohort noticed and quickly grabbed his foot as it floated out of the hatch. Even the most trained and disciplined individual could ignore all precautions and checklists and succumb to a greater urge.
"And then there was the monotony of space, the long stretches of nothingness, whether experienced alone – certainly the deepest emptiness of all – or in a small group, when tensions nearly always arose. Despite the speed of the aircraft, inside there was often no sensation of movement and everything appeared fixed and motionless. Moments of sensory bombardment alternated with extended periods of sensory deprivation. The first few cosmonauts were given books; later ones, curiously, were instead handed knives, wood blocks, coloured pencils and paper with which to pass the time. Some individuals would apparently become so exasperated with the lack of stimuli that they’d wish for the equipment to break down simply to provide some variety."
PUBLISHED: Aug. 29, 2012
LENGTH: 12 minutes (3213 words)
[Fiction] [Not single-page] Mail-order brides on a journey across the ocean:
"On the boat we were mostly virgins. We had long black hair and flat wide feet and we were not very tall. Some of us had eaten nothing but rice gruel as young girls and had slightly bowed legs, and some of us were only fourteen years old and were still young girls ourselves. Some of us came from the city, and wore stylish city clothes, but many more of us came from the country and on the boat we wore the same old kimonos we’d been wearing for years – faded hand-me-downs from our sisters that had been patched and re-dyed many times. Some of us came from the mountains and had never before seen the sea, except for in pictures, and some of us were the daughters of fishermen who had been around the sea all our lives. Perhaps we had lost a brother or father to the sea, or a fiancé, or perhaps someone we loved had jumped into the water one unhappy morning and simply swum away, and now it was time for us, too, to move on."
PUBLISHED: April 21, 2012
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4714 words)
[Fiction] A family of children escape starvation in North Korea:
"The day the siblings left to find their mother, snow devoured the northern mining town. Houses loomed like ghosts. The government’s face was everywhere: on the sides of a beached cart, above the lintel of the post office, on placards scattered throughout the surrounding mountains praising the Dear Leader Kim Jong-il. And in the grain sack strapped to the oldest brother Woncheol’s back, their crippled sister, the weight of a few books.
"The younger brother Choecheol ran ahead. Like a child, Woncheol thought, frowning, though he too was still a child, an eleven-year-old with a body withering on two years of boiled tree bark, mashed roots, the occasional grilled rat and fried crickets on a stick."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 14, 2012
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3693 words)
[Fiction] Mother comes back one evening and she starts up at supper about feng shui, how our house isn’t organized for a happy life, how the front door should never line up with the back door like ours does – never. One of her colleagues in Parks and Recreation told her that.
They’re all dipshits down there, I said.
And the boy said, talking with his mouth full like he always does, That’s why you’re not supposed to have a crucifix in the bedroom. Is a cross the same as a crucifix? he says.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 1, 2011
LENGTH: 13 minutes (3354 words)
The stories my grandmother, my anneanne, told me when I was a child are anything but children’s stories. They are folktales that have a common theme – the triumph of wily wives over evil husbands (jealous, repressive skinflints) through crafty subterfuge. My grandmother always launched into these torrid tales as if she were telling them for the first time, and the contradiction between her placid, proper widowhood and her clear delight in the salacious plots of her stories horrified yet fascinated me. I too delighted in these gory, grotesque tales, and revelled in their message of Old World female empowerment.
PUBLISHED: June 9, 2011
LENGTH: 11 minutes (2935 words)
[Not single-page] A lawyer can't stop walking:
"He worked past ten most nights, and most nights found him sufficiently absorbed in something that required only the turn of a page or the click of a mouse — too little activity for the sensors to register. The lights frequently switched off on him. He’d look up, surprised again — not just by the darkened office. By his re-entry into the physical world. Self-awareness. Himself as something more than mind thinking. He’d have to stand, a little amused by the crude technology, and wave his arms around, jump up and down, walk over and fan the door, sometimes all three, before the lights would return.
"That was happiness."
PUBLISHED: Dec. 1, 2009
LENGTH: 23 minutes (5833 words)
PUBLISHED: Sept. 4, 2009
LENGTH: 8 minutes (2137 words)
There is nothing superficial about brands in contemporary Delhi. This is a place where one’s social significance is assumed to be nil unless there are tangible signs to the contrary, so the need for such signs is authentic and fierce. And in these times of stupefying upheaval, when all old meanings are under assault, it is corporate brands that seem to carry the most authority. Brands hold within them the impressive infinity of the new global market. They hold out the promise of dignity and distinction in a harsh city that constantly tries to withhold these things.
PUBLISHED: July 28, 2009
LENGTH: 43 minutes (10961 words)