Cao Wenxuan, Professor of Chinese literature at Peking University, is considered China’s Hans Christian Andersen. Bronze and Sunflower was published in China in 2005, and the English translation received financial assistance from English PEN Writers in Translation Programme, established to celebrate books of outstanding literary quality which promote intercultural understanding. Translator Helen Wang has risen admirably to the challenge of translating from the original Chinese, and the result is a timeless classic, in prose at once painterly and poetic.
The story is set in the late 1960s, among reedlands in rural China in the early days of the Cultural Revolution. Bronze is a village boy, mute since a traumatic childhood experience, and Sunflower is a little girl from the Cadre school on the other side of the river, taken in by Bronze’s family when she is orphaned. While telling their story, Cao depicts subsistence farming in fascinating detail: flocks of ducks pillaging a paddy-field for the valuable white corms of arrowroot, fire sweeping through a thatched village, and the destruction wrought by a flock of locusts on a small farming community are among the images which will linger long after finishing the novel.
It is a rare treat to come across a book that you want to keep with you for days after reading, to dip into again at leisure, be it for the beauty of the writing, the resonance of the story, or the luminosity of the imagery. Such a book is Bronze and Sunflower.