In the Face of Death We Are Equal
‘Those who know me call me Old He, and they also know that I’ve worked in a crematorium for my entire life.’ Here begins Mu Cao’s novel In the Face of Death We Are Equal, an unrelentingly realistic portrait of working-class gay men in the underbelly of Chinese society. He Donghai is days away from his sixtieth birthday and long-awaited retirement from his job as a corpse burner at a Beijing crematorium. As he approaches the momentous day, he reflects on his life and his relationship with a special group of young men who live and love on the margins of Chinese society. One of them is Ah Qing, a young migrant worker who leaves his village in Henan Province to earn a living in cities—and who has an unexpected personal connection to He. Through a disrupted and nonlinear narrative technique, and alternating between first, second, and third person, In the Face of Death We Are Equal tells the story of Ah and other young men like him.
Sometimes enraging, often humorous, but always powerful, this novel explores the economic and sexual exploitation of young men and women from China’s impoverished countryside who seek survival in the shadow of China’s economic ‘miracle’. Written in Mu Cao’s trademark earthy, sometimes graphic, idiom, and deftly translated by Scott E. Myers, In the Face of Death We Are Equal will be a valuable addition to queer and Chinese literature in translation.
‘Mu Cao neither apologizes nor equivocates. He writes as he sees and as he wants. And while he never explicitly addresses political matters, this fearlessness—especially with the book circulating today, under the party’s renewed assault on civil society and free expression—is a political statement in itself.’—Times Literary Supplement
‘In the Face of Death We Are Equal showcases the talent, ambition, and audacity of Mu Cao, a queer Chinese writer from a working-class background who taught himself creative writing and eventually established himself as one of the most original queer poets and novelists from China. A story about rural and working-class gay men’s lives at the margins of Chinese society, Mu Cao’s novel reveals a hidden corner of Chinese society and Chinese gay life. Constantly shifting narrative perspectives and intertwining elements of magical realism and the grotesque, the novel does not make for an easy read. It refuses narrative closure and challenges liberal, middle-class gay sentimentality. It can only be fully appreciated when readers are willing to break the China/West dichotomy and step out of the comfort zone of gay liberalism.’—Hongwei Bao, Words Without Borders
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