Spray Time in China

This novel is too funny! Which is the farthest thing you would expect from reading the back cover.

Professor K reminisces about teaching at a Beijing university.

  • When it was time to spray the trees with pesticides — and when wasn’t a good time? — a tanker would come through blaring the first few bars of “Happy Birthday” as a warning to all campus residents to close all windows, close all windows, while men wearing coolie hats and cloth masks trained their hoses on the trees, water gushing to the birthday music — but never the second part of “Happy Birthday” where the melody leaps an octave, which made the chiming so much like those feeble ice cream trucks in America that could never quite finish a tune. (K: A Novel, p. 16)

Drollery, Voice

Charged with igniting a political insurrection among his students in a university in Beijing, Kauffman is sent to the notorious Kun Chong Prison, where his existence grows stranger by the hour as he struggles with the weight of his imprisonment and his incurable need to write about it in a place where art is forbidden, and the inmates must act as executioners.

— Back cover blurb, K: A Novel, by Ted O’Connell

Self knows what will keep her reading K: A Novel, it’s the voice. Professor K’s thoughts, his total absence of self-pity, his dry wit, are a joy (This novel better not end with his death! It’s first person, so perhaps not)

Back to Professor K’s ruminations about his fellow prisoner:

  • His given name, Xuo, is nothing I’ve heard before and even the native speakers are confused by it. In lighter moments I call him Barbie Shoes. In darker moments I want the guards to call him away and carry out his sentence, put his eyes into another world so I don’t have to see them in mine.

K: A Novel, p. 7

Taking a wee break from the Ruth Gallowary series (Finished Book #3 last night: Five Stars!) and tackling K: A Novel, which self has been itching to read since she bought it at the AWP Bookfair in March!

From the back cover: Professor Francis Kauffman has unwittingly landed himself in prison where he’s faced with an insurmountable task: execute a fellow inmate.

I know, right? That’s a hell of a one-sentence synopsis.

  • In my darker moments, I look at his eyes — the right pupil is enlarged from some injury — and wonder if he is really that much different from an animal. Because he is the only one besides me who does not read the propaganda books piled on the crate, we assume he cannot read. Let’s say he has an IQ of 70. Through no fault of his own, his abstract reasoning is limited. Nor can he truly enjoy fine art. Would it be a sin to say the man is more animal than me? This is the kind of comment that could get me fired from any number of jobs in civil society, not to mention putting off friends of all stripes. What I mean to say is that if I’m perfectly honest, I can admit that Xu Xuo seems less than human. The blank look in the eyes. He seems to think of nothing. He lies on his cot staring at the ceiling, waiting to be nothing. He is sentenced to death for a crime so terrible as to be unknown in our circle.

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