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Thank you to Small Beer Press for giving us permission to publish this excerpt from Su Wei's novel The Invisible Valley, translated by Austin Woerner and released on April 3rd 2018. The novel is set in the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and tells the story of a teenager working in a remote mountain encampment who stumbles upon an ambiguous utopia. You can find out more on the Small Beer Press website, and read a previous excerpt here. And we're delighted that Austin will be joining us soon to answer some questions about the novel and his translation.

Lu Beiping is one of 20 million young adults the Chinese government uproots and sends far from their homes for agricultural re-education. And Lu is bored and exhausted. While he pines for romance, instead he’s caught up in a forbidden religious tradition and married off to the foreman’s long-dead daughter so that her soul may rest. The foreman then sends him off to cattle duty up on Mudkettle Mountain, far away from everyone else.

On the mountain, Lu meets an outcast polyamorous family led by a matriarch, Jade, and one of her lovers, Kingfisher. They are woodcutters and practice their own idiosyncratic faith by which they claim to placate the serpent-demon sleeping in the belly of the mountains. Just as the village authorities get wind of Lu’s dalliances with the woodcutters, a typhoon rips through the valley. And deep in the jungle, a giant serpent may be stirring.

The Invisible Valley is a lyrical fable about the shapes into which human affection can be pressed in extreme circumstances; about what is natural and what is truly deviant; about the relationships between the human and the natural, the human and the divine, the self and the other.

Blurb from Small Beer Press

From Chapter 3: Pa

 

牛们全卧在坡上。显然都吃饱了,蜷在一堆等着主人。路北平跟着阿秋刚刚走近,它们就拉响鼻笛欢快地鸣唱起来。

吼了一声领头的安东尼,牛们列队起行,他总算长长地吐出一口大气。

一个古怪的寨子。一群古怪的人。他想。他的人生阅历,还不足以让他去领悟这种古怪 。

月光清冷。黑黑的山碗里,这里那里,泛溅着银光。三面碗口对出去,是巴灶背面一片开阔的山原,像深海里的八爪大章鱼似的,脉脉络络,一总都在银水中舒坦着筋骨。山风沁 凉,他第一脚踩回溪水里甚至轻轻哎哟了一声——其实他是套着雨靴的,阿秋反而赤着脚。 牛们却踢踢踏踏走得轻快——比他更归心似箭吧。

The cattle rested on the slope. They’d grazed their fill, and now sat huddled together in the grass waiting for their master. As Lu Beiping approached, a few steps behind Autumn, the animals raised their voices in warm, baritone greeting.

Lu Beiping hollered to Alyosha, and as the herd assembled and began trooping down the hillside he heaved a huge sigh of relief.

Strange place. Strange people. Nothing he’d experienced in his life up to this point had prepared him to understand this kind of strangeness.

The chilly moonlight refreshed him. Splashes of silver shone on the dark bluffs to either side, and framed in the hollow’s mouth lay the sprawling form of the mountain, like an octopus easing its tentacles in deep, moonlit waters. There was a cold breeze, and when Lu Beiping stepped into the creek he gasped despite his rubber boots. Autumn was barefoot. The cattle sloshed along happily, hastening homeward with an eagerness that Lu Beiping didn’t share.

又闻到了林子里那股熟酒般的发酵气味。他在听惯了的夜半林声中,寻找着和阿秋打破 沈默的话头。他其实感觉到了他的更愿意交谈的欲望。

狗又不叫了,他终于说,刚才,叫得可吓死人。

是我先把它绑在了树下的。阿秋说——这是路北平听到他开口说话的第一个句子。不然 它更不得了啦,天黑前你那个千军万马的阵像,真把它吓坏了。

两人都轻轻笑了起来。

又小走了一段路,阿秋主动开了口:你几岁了?哪年下的乡?

你猜吧。

我猜不出来你们城里人的面相。

城里人的面相?路北平笑笑。

我估计你比我小,我是六五年的初中毕业,你呢?

我算六九年的初中毕业。其实一天初中也没读过就下乡啦。

可是你知道彼得、犹大,我们乡下地方,高中生也未必知道。

Once again the jungle’s fermented odor filled his nostrils. Amid the familiar night noises he searched for something to say to Autumn, something to break the silence. He felt a sudden need for talk.

—The dog’s not barking, he said finally. When I came up he was making quite a scene.

—It was me that tied him up then, Autumn said, opening his mouth to speak for the first time since Lu Beiping laid eyes on him that afternoon. You scared him good, marching up there with your thunderous army.

They both laughed quietly. After walking in silence for a while, Autumn spoke again.

—How old are you? When’d you come to the country?

—Guess.

—I can’t tell. City people’s features all look alike to me.

—City people’s features? Lu Beiping repeated, chuckling.

—I’d say you’re younger than me, Autumn said. I graduated from junior high in sixty-five. You?

—I would’ve graduated in sixty-nine. But I actually never went to junior high, at least not to class. They closed the schools right after I finished sixth grade. Three years later I got downcountried.

—But you know Jesus, Peter, Judas. Where I come from, even high schoolers don’t know those names.

他瞥他一眼。他显然是知道的,路北平想。便说:可是很多人都能倒背如流的东西,比如:一帮一,一对红,三要三不要,一斗二批三改四化五整六通七荤八素什么的,我一听就脑袋疼,记不住,每次时事测验都不及格。

他大笑起来,抡着砍刀在水边草丛乱砍一气。

阿秋艰难地笑了笑:不说这些,不说这些。

路北平想问他是大陆上哪一个“乡下地方”人,哪年到的海南岛?可对于“做流散的”,又觉得都是不宜细问的话题,便打住,再找不着后续的话。两人又在溪水里走了一会儿,路北平听见前面水中哗哗地滑过一声响,显然是山里昼伏夜出的什么野物,便想把手中的砍刀投过去,吓走它,却被阿秋轻轻止住了。

是蛇过水。不必惊动它。不惊蛇,不惊鬼。噢,对了,忘了告诉你,这是我们八哥的忌讳。终于找到一个好话题。他说,对,那你告诉我,刚才我,犯了八哥的什么忌讳呢?

阿秋沈默了一阵:他的忌讳很多。又顿了顿,我也是他的忌讳。

Lu Beiping glanced at Autumn. He knew them, obviously.

—Yeah, but there are a lot of things I never learned. Like, Rectify Ideological Outlook. Never Forget Class Struggle. Venerate, Emulate, Integrate, Participate, Evaluate, Interrogate, Repudiate, Annihilate. That stuff gave me a headache. I failed every current events test.

Lu Beiping laughed and slashed with his machete at the grass that grew alongside the creek. Autumn smiled tensely.

—Let’s not talk about that stuff.

Lu Beiping wanted to ask Autumn where exactly he came from, and how long he’d been in Hainan. But he felt that he shouldn’t press a “driftperson” for these details, so he bit his tongue, trying to think of something else to say. The two young men waded on down the creek. Up ahead Lu Beiping heard a quiet swishing noise in the water, probably some creeping night creature, and was about to fling his machete in order to scare it off when Autumn laid a hand gently on his arm.

—Don’t. It’s a snake, crossing the water. Don’t rile the snakes, don’t wake the spirits. That’s one of Kingfisher’s laws. I should’ve told you.

That was something to talk about.

—So, what law of Kingfisher’s did I break, back there?

Autumn was quiet for a moment. Then he said:

—Kingfisher has lots of laws . . . lots of sins. I’m one.

路北平侧过脸望望他,一明一暗筛下的月光,使他的脸色显得比平常素静而且淡然。

他又缓缓地说道:阿扁他阿大,死了——我们在山里不说死,说扁。是被倒树落下来压扁了的。他刚生下来,他阿大就给他起名叫扁,说做流散的命贱,叫扁,就克了扁。没想没克住,阿扁反而把他阿大给克了。所以,他低声说,他们不喜欢阿扁。

想起刚才的唐突,他心里一阵抽冷:——他们?

阿扁是阿佩生的么?他问。

是。阿扁是她的大崽。阿蜞阿虱都是她生的。

是她和八哥、阿木他们……生的么?他问得很小心。

是。她最疼阿扁,私底下她都让阿扁叫她阿大。可是不能让八哥听见。

那——为什么又不能惊蛇呢?路北平的问题太多了。

阿秋望了他一眼,说:讲点“四旧”吧。老话说:什么东西都有魂魄,我信的。按八哥的话讲,血热的禽兽身上有神,血冷的爬虫身上有鬼。

Lu Beiping turned and gazed at him. In the branch-filtered moonlight his expression looked even more somber and remote than usual.

—Smudge’s dad died, Autumn said slowly. Was smudged. We don’t say die, we say smudged. Smudge’s dad was smudged flat by a falling tree. When Smudge was born, his dad named him that, said mean folks need mean names, give a man a low name and death’ll pass over him. But death took him instead. Smudge crossed his own dad. So—Autumn lowered his voice—they don’t like him.

They? Lu Beiping remembered the rude scene at the end of dinner and felt a chill.

—Is Jade Smudge’s mother? he asked.

—Yep. He’s her oldest. She mothered Tick and Roach too.

—By . . . Kingfisher? By Stump? Lu Beiping asked carefully.

—Yep, Autumn said. But it’s Smudge she cherishes most. She has him call her Pa in secret. Never when Kingfisher’s around.

—So, Lu Beiping said, now brimming with curiosity: What about snakes? Why can’t you rile them?

Autumn gazed at him for a moment, then said slowly:

—On account of what your people call Antiquated Thinking. Some folks hold that everything has a spirit. I believe that. The way Kingfisher says it, spirits of warm-blooded animals are good spirits, divines. But spirits of cold-blooded animals, snakes and insects and the like, are haunts. Weirds.

那死去的人呢,路北平哆哆嗦嗦地问——他蓦地想到阿娴:那算是血热的还是血冷的呢 ?

死去的人有魂,魂是血冷的。血热的变成了血冷的,煞气就大了。八哥就说,阿扁身上煞气大。

那——你呢?你说你也是他的忌讳?

他们说我血冷。我也知道——我是。

路北平打了一个寒噤。再想起阿娴种种,不能往下想,又沈默着,走。

没人管你们么?过了一会儿,他又问,大老深山的,你们靠着这拉木、开板的,怎么活呢?

我们归白沙管。你们这山碗背面,算儋州的地界;白沙怕儋州独吃了巴灶山里的树材,准我们进山伐树倒木,开板成材以后送出山外收购。八哥手上有白沙批出来的入山牌照的。

他似乎本能地在交代来历,又轻轻叹道,都知道山里伐木最苦,不是我们做流散的做,谁会做呢?

—What about dead people? Lu Beiping asked with a catch in his voice, thinking of Han. Are their spirits good or bad?

—Dead people’s spirits are cold-blooded. Warm blood turns cold, that makes shadow air, killing air. Kingfisher says Smudge has got the killing air about him.

—What about you? You said you’re . . . a sin?

—They say I’m cold-blooded. They’re right.

Lu Beiping shuddered. He thought of Han again, couldn’t bring himself to think further, and walked on in silence.

After a while he asked:

—Who do you all report to? Are you part of a unit? How do you get by, felling trees up here in the mountains?

—We belong to Whitesands County. This bluff here is the border between Tam-chow and Whitesands. Whitesands is afraid you down in Tam-chow are about to burn the mountain clean of wood, so they let us up here to log and ship timber down to sell. Kingfisher has papers.

He spoke reflexively, as if recounting a well-worn story. Sighing, he said:

—Logging’s hard work. Who to do it, but us driftfolk?

牛群却突然停住了,原来已到了傍晚下水的河曲豁口。路北平吆喝几声让牛们上路,便转过身对阿秋说:你回去吧,下面的路我走熟了。阿秋说:天早,再陪你走一程吧,顺便看看你的——住家。

这后一个叫法把他说笑了,想了想:也好,顺便让你给阿扁带点药回去。对了,这不犯你们的忌讳?

阿秋抿嘴苦笑。想起阿扁的发病,两人的脚步不由加快了。转过一道山沟,又到了一个河曲。牛们像是欢呼一样地哞起来。连夜风里的气味都是熟悉的啦,它们叫着闹着,很快就踢着蹄子撞开了牛栏。安东尼!路北平吆喝了两声,拉过一把铁耙就耙倒了一垛平日挑回来的山草,抱过几抱垫进牛栏里,见牛们欢快地挤着吃着,又慌忙跳到栅门前牛车辕架上点数— —一五一十,十五二十……不多不少,七十八头。

阿秋用一种惊诧的眼神打量着他,似乎对他的利落身手很感意外。

很快就不止这个数位了,他略显得意地对阿秋说,至少有两头母牛怀了崽子,我这里,也快要有生有养啦!

阿秋没回话,脸上似乎隐然飘过一片云翳。

The cattle had stopped. They’d come to the clearing from which Lu Beiping and Jade had waded into the creek that evening. Lu Beiping hollered them onward, then turned to Autumn.

—You can go back now. I know the way.

—It’s early yet, Autumn said. I’ll walk with you a spell, take a look at your . . . abode.

Lu Beiping laughed inwardly to hear his hut described in such lofty terms.

—Sure. Actually, that’s a great idea. I can give you medicine for Smudge. That’s not . . . against your laws, is it?

Autumn smiled bitterly, and the two quickened their steps at the thought of Smudge’s illness. After skirting a ravine they emerged at the third bend of the creek, and the cattle celebrated their arrival with cheerful lows. Familiar smells filled the night air, and the beasts trumpeted and fussed eagerly. Before long they were shouldering at the corral gate, and managed to kick it open. Lu Beiping hollered sharply to Alyosha, raked down some of the hay that he kept piled near the corral and tossed a few armfuls through the fence slats, then as the cattle crowded round to feed he leapt up onto one of the shafts of the oxcart and counted them.

—Seventy-six, seventy-seven . . . Perfect! Seventy-eight.

Autumn watched him with a look of wonder, as if surprised to see Lu Beiping make these nimble, practiced motions.

—Soon there’ll be more than that, Lu Beiping said with a hint of pride. At least two of the cows are pregnant. The miracle of life, eh? Before long I’ll be looking after a whole new generation of mooing youngsters.

Autumn said nothing, and for a moment his expression darkened.

窝棚里混合着一种潮气、汗味、新草房的茅草香气以及他的雨鞋宿臭所综合的古怪味道。点亮马灯,他发现阿秋站在门边并没有进来,神色忽然又变得像刚在寨子里见面时一样的阴郁。路北平唤了几声他没肯动弹,便匆匆往包里翻找着带进山里的小药包。糟糕,带来的疟疾特效药奎宁,不觉间竟被他吃完了——进山以来他最担心的就是染上这种热带怪病,也顾不上奎宁是否能起预防作用,每天下工回来就记住吞服一片。药包里剩下的,都是什么“银翘解毒片”或者“藿香正气丸”之类的杂药,全是进山前从连部卫生室领来的。他随便抓了一小瓶“银翘”片,说:或许凑合着也能为阿扁解毒解毒吧。便递给阿秋。回过身还想在窝棚里找点什么好玩的东西给阿扁带去。他踌躇着拿起那把口琴,抬起头,却发现阿秋已经不吭不响的走了。

追出门,阿秋的身影消失在河曲尽头,只剩一片月影水声。这也是一个怪人。他想。

The hut smelled of damp air and sweat, of new thatch and the longstanding reek of his boots. Lu Beiping lit the lamp, glanced back and saw Autumn still standing outside, the same look of melancholy on his face that he’d worn at dinner up in the hollow. He called to Autumn, but the man didn’t move. Lu Beiping turned and fished hurriedly in his bag, found the pouch of pills he’d brought with him into the mountains. Crap, there was no quinine left—after moving to his jungle camp, he’d been so scared of catching that dreadful tropical disease that he’d swallowed a pill every night, not even knowing whether it could be taken prophylactically. Now he had nothing left but piddling things he’d loaded up on at the clinic, Silverwing Detoxifiers and Blue Licorice Extract and such. He grabbed the Silverwing bottle, handed it to Autumn.

—Here, this might help, till I can get some better stuff.

He turned and searched the hut for something fun to give Smudge, reached hesitantly for his harmonica. But when he looked back Autumn had slipped away without a sound.

He ran out, saw Autumn’s shadow vanish into the trees on the far side of the creek, leaving nothing but moonlight and murmuring water. Another strange one, Lu Beiping thought.

 



Like many Chinese writers of his generation, Su Wei spent his teenage years being “re-educated” through farm labor in the countryside, working for ten years on a rubber plantation in the mountains of tropical Hainan Island. He is known for his nonfiction essays as well as for his highly imaginative novels, which are seen as unique in their treatment of the Cultural Revolution. He left China in 1989, and since 1997 he has taught Chinese language and literature at Yale University. The Invisible Valley, translated by Austin Woerner, and published by Small Beer Press, is his first book to be translated into English.
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