Book report: Braised Pork by An Yu

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A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine put out a call on her Instagram for book recommendations, and I recommended Braised Pork by An Yu. My friend asked what it was about, and I said it was about “a woman in China who finds her husband has drowned in their bathtub.”

“Jesus, that sounds bleak,” my friend responded.

Braised Pork cover 

That’s a fair assessment of the premise, but it didn’t feel like a bleak tale during the reading. Jia Jia, the main character, loses her husband in a strange and shocking fashion. She finds herself without a partner, without an income, and without much purpose in a house she finds herself too poor to heat. The story may begin with abrupt tragedy, but this serves as a catalyst for Jia Jia to examine herself, her past, and her desires, and to choose a path forward for herself.

Like my previous lockdown read, Braised Pork is a story that involves travel, with Jia Jia moving about Beijing, and then later touring through Tibet, in a way that I can’t even imagine right now. But it’s not a story of wide open spaces, rather one of discrete locations of significance to the characters. Jia Jia may live in a huge empty apartment when we meet her, but she spends most of her time in smaller venues: the bar across the street from her house; her grandmother’s apartment, crowded by a huge fish tank; the entranceway to a client’s home; a small bedroom in her host’s house in Tibet. It is in Tibet, and in Jia Jia’s dreams, that we find ourselves in spaces without walls or boundaries.

The story increasingly steps out of ordinary reality towards the end, in a way which brought to mind the second half of Pip Adam’s The New Animals. But while Adam’s story takes a sudden and entirely unexpected turn, Yu’s book has been slowly lowering itself into this other world in full view of the reader the entire time.

Braised Pork by An Yu is available at Auckland Libraries as a book, or ebook.

Book reports