‘From the most translated Chinese novelist of our time‘
– The Message
I am delighted to be joining the tour for The Message by Mai Jia. Translated by Olivia Milburn and published with Apollo (HoZ imprint) The Message is described as ‘a dazzling literary thriller set in Japan-occupied China‘
I have an extract to share with you all today so I do hope you enjoy.
[ About the Book ]
It is the height of the Second World War, and Japan rules over China. In the famously beautiful city of Hangzhou, a puppet government propped up by the Japanese is waging an underground war against the Communist resistance.
Late one night, under cover of darkness, three men and two women are escorted to an isolated mansion on the shores of West Lake. All five are intelligence officers, employed as codebreakers by the regime. But the secret police are certain that one of them is a communist spy. None of them is leaving until the traitor is unmasked.
It should be a straightforward case of sifting truth from lies. But as each codebreaker spins a story that proves their innocence, events are framed and re-framed, and what really happened is called into question again and again.
Part historical spy thriller, part playful meta-fiction, The Message is a masterclass in storytelling from a Chinese literary sensation.
Extract – The Message
My story is set in 1941, during the Japanese occupation,
just as spring turned to summer. The location is West
Lake in the city of Hangzhou, a famous beauty spot in east
China, in the province of Zhejiang.
In the 1930s and 1940s, Hangzhou was less than a fifth
of its present size, but the heart of the city – West Lake –
was no smaller than it is now and had just as many beautiful
vistas and historic sites in and around it as it has today.
Extending across the lake was the causeway built in the
name of the Tang-dynasty poet Bai Juyi and the causeway
constructed by the Song-dynasty poet and essayist Su
Dongpo; dotted along these were the Broken Bridge, the
Bridge of Gazing at the Immortals, Brocade Belt Bridge,
Jade Belt Bridge and Linked Waves Bridge. There were
also the Three Pools Mirroring the Moon, the famous vista
known as the Moon Over Peaceful Lake in Autumn, and at
the head of Xiling Bridge the tomb of the lovely but ill-fated
fifth-century courtesan Su Xiaoxiao. There was the vista
called Orioles Singing in the Willow Trees and the temple
commemorating the Qian kings who made Hangzhou their
capital in the tenth century. On Gushan Island there was
the tomb of the revolutionary martyr and feminist Qiu Jin,
executed in 1907, and the famous Louwailou restaurant.
Tucked away in the hills surrounding the lake were the
White Cloud Nunnery, the seven-storey Baochu Pagoda,
Precious Stone Hill Floating in the Rosy Cloud, and the
temple commemorating the patriotic Song-dynasty martyr
General Yue Fei. And so on. They were all there, as they
are still – the hills and the pools, the causeways and the
pagodas, the temples and the bridges, the artificial islands
and the scenic sites – left quite untouched by the Japanese.
In August 1937 Hangzhou was quite heavily bombed by
the Japanese. I am told that, even now, more than seven
decades on, unexploded ordnance is regularly uncovered
along the Qiantang River, with the manufacturer’s marks
fully legible. Bombs fell from the sky, scaring people half
to death even when they didn’t explode, and most of them
did. Explosions rent the heavens and shook the earth; they
opened great chasms in the ground and unleashed infernos
that caused countless deaths and injuries. The inhabitants
of Hangzhou all fled. West Lake would no doubt have run
away too if it could have, but since that was impossible, it
had to stay and take what was coming.
As it happened, however, West Lake was amazingly lucky.
Several hundred planes flew dozens of sorties and bombed
Hangzhou itself into a wasteland, but West Lake and its
many vistas and historic sites were entirely unaffected, as if
protected by the gods. Only the temple dedicated to General
Yue Fei seemed to have fallen outside this charmed circle,
sustaining a small amount of bomb damage.
[ Bio ]
Mai Jia (the pseudonym of Jiang Benhu) is arguably the most successful writer in China today. His books are constant bestsellers, with total sales over three million copies. He became the highest paid author in China in 2013 with his book, WIND TALK. He has achieved unprecedented success with film adaptation: all of his novels are made – or are being made – into major films or TV series, the screenplays of which are often written by Mai Jia himself.
He is hailed as the forerunner of Chinese espionage fiction, and has created a unique genre that combines spy-craft, code-breaking, crime, human drama, historical fiction, and meta-fiction. He has won almost every major award in China, including the highest literary honor – the Mao Dun Award.
(Courtesy of Georgina Capel Associates)