There are books that you devour, slurping them up like thick stew, or a hearty noodle dish, because they’re so brilliant, so lulling in their language, yet so dense with events. So delicious. “Invisible Valley” is one such book. I could not get enough of it. It tells the story of Lu Beiping, an introspective, bookish youth who gets sent to the countryside during the Chinese cultural revolution, and becomes entangled in a world of superstition and magic that puts his capacity for affection to a test. The relationship that Lu Beiping establishes with a non-traditional family unit of vagrant woodcutters is one the most beautiful evocations of love, both romantic and spiritual, that I’ve encountered in literature.
If you only read one Asian or Chinese book this year, make it this one. Hell, even if you only read one book this year period, make it this one. It’s enough to sustain all that space. The invisible valley of the title is the secret space on Mudkettle mountain where you can only get when the mythical components are right. And this is how the novel works, too: seemingly compact, it unfolds on an epic scale, and becomes a valley in itself, where one can get lost while pondering Chinese history and culture, or the universal concepts of humanity and attraction. And it possesses this very special, inimitable quality that only the best books do: while undoubtedly literary, it is just as engrossing then a genre novel. In fact, more so, because it lacks in artifice.
Translated intimately by Austin Woerner, who is Su Wei’s ex-student and close friend, this book, published by a small indie house, deserves all the accolades it can get.
Invisible Valley by Su Wei
Translated by Austin Woerner
Published by Small Beer Press in 2018
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