China-style Flash Fiction. By Lao Ma.
Translated by Li Qisheng and Li Ping. With b/w illustrations. Format: B-format paperback, 180 pages. Category: Fiction. ISBN 978-988-16775-3-2
Individuals is a collection of more than fifty examples of ‘flash fiction’ – short stories of fewer than 1000 words. Every word was written by Lao Ma, considered the founder of the genre in China and credited for turning this experimental format into a recognized genre of its own. Perfect for teachers and students of creative writing, this powerful new volume will quench the thirsts of those who crave punchy, succinct fiction – during that rare five-minute break.
While comparatively few people have heard of ‘Flash Fiction’, its literary craze is rapidly starting to take the world by storm. The rules are simple – every story must be fewer than 1000 words, with each narrative retaining the depth and influence of their full-length cousins.
It’s a genre steeped in fun, popularized to a mainstream audience by China’s Lao Ma – now considered by most to be Flash Fiction’s “global master”. While Ma set out to offer mordant wryly funny little vignettes of the absurdities and ironies of life in China, his work rapidly became a vital tool for teachers of creative writing who wanted perfect examples of short, short fiction.
With demand for the genre now growing in the UK and Europe, Ma is delighted to announce the release of ‘Individuals’ – the first book of its kind to hit the British shelves.
While most Chinese writers are addicted to long narratives, the stories of Individuals prove that brevity really is the soul of wit. Frustrated professors, pompous judges and devious careerists cross the pages of this book, as Lao Ma skilfully dissects the hypocrisies and ironies of life in China.
Asia Review of Books Review
Individuals is a collection of very short short stories, so-called “flash fiction”: few if any reach 1000 words, most are quite a bit less. This 180-page book contains more than 50 distinct stories. The author Lao Ma, the pen name of Ma Junjie, has a day job as Professor of Literature at People’s University (Renmin Daixue) in Beijing.
Since so little of this sort of thing makes it into English, the book would be worth picking up for its novelty value alone. It helps, however, Individuals is very readable, that a number of the stories are rather good, and that all seem to have been ably translated by Li Qisheng and Li Ping.
In his preface to Individuals (the average length of Lao Ma’s stories translated in Individuals is just 700 words), Lao Ma even dares to take aim at Nobel laureate Mo Yan, in the course of expounding his own philosophy of fiction:
The 2012 Nobel literature laureate, Chinese writer Mo Yan, says a novel must be lengthy to qualify as an example of the art form. His major works usually weigh in at several hundred thousand words. According to Mo, “Any novel less than 200,000 words lacks dignity. A leopard might be fierce and brave but he is too short in stature to be the king of the jungle.”
By his standards, Mo Yan is a tiger of a writer.
Lao Ma contrasts Mo Yan’s approach with that the ‘short and concise’ stories of Argentine master Borges and states:
I side with Borges. Length is not a measure of literary value. Dogs both big and small can bark. Legs long and short can run.
Now for the first time, English readers can experience Lao Ma’s writing and judge its merits for themselves. Individuals will be available from March 5 at good bookstores in the UK and Ireland, Hong Kong, Singapore, China and all major digital retailers.
Time Out Profile
No one can say exactly why ‘flash fiction’ is becoming so popular in this country. It’s certainly a break from the Chinese norm, which
is a slavish, establishmentarian commitment to the belief that ‘more is more’, and that a novel must be long to qualify as an example of the art.