Braised Pork

An Yu

Braised Pork
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Braised Pork

An Yu

One morning in autumn, just after breakfast, Jia Jia finds her husband dead in the bathtub of their Beijing apartment. Next to him is a piece of folded paper, a sketch of a strange creature from his dream. He has left her no other sign.


Young, alone, and with many unanswered questions, Jia Jia sets out to discover what this this mysterious clue might mean. From the high-rises to the hidden bars of contemporary Beijing, she crosses paths with people who call the city home, including someone who may be able to offer her the love she had long thought impossible. Her journey takes her to the high plains of Tibet, and even to a shadowy, watery otherworld, a place she both yearns for and fears.

Cinematic, dreamlike and very beautiful, Braised Pork is an exploration of myth-making, loss, and a world beyond words, and of a young woman’s search deep into her past in order to arrive at her future.

Review

Wu Jia Jia is abruptly widowed in her early thirties when her husband inexplicably drowns in the bath. Cast adrift with little money and even less sense of direction, she is haunted by the sketch her husband left behind of a half-man, half-fish he saw in a dream before he died. What is the significance of the fish–man? Why can’t Jia Jia manage to capture the creature in her own paintings?

This story unfolds with a strange but beautiful melancholy as Jia Jia tries to establish an independent life in Beijing. There is a quiet desperation to her days as she meets new people, takes on a commissioned mural, shops for New Year’s gifts. Eventually her yearning for understanding drives her to visit Tibet, where the story begins to flicker between the mundane and the fantastic. As Jia Jia travels further in her search, her own carefully unexamined past and family turmoils become increasingly oppressive and relevant.

This is a story full of loneliness, repression, avoidance; and human connection in spite of these pitfalls. The cast of mercurial supporting characters are a delight: the suave and cerebral bartender Leo, Jia Jia’s incautious aunt and disapproving grandmother, the mouthy and impulsive young writer Ren Qi, the man known only as ‘Grandpa’ who plants tulip bulbs and never speaks.

There is an exquisite simplicity and energy to An Yu’s writing, which often flits fish-like from mournfulness to humour. This story will not suit anyone who demands that all loose ends are tied off and that plot points click neatly into place. By the end of Braised Pork, the questions that linger are the most interesting ones.


Ele Jenkins works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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