Atlas by Dung Kai-Cheung

Jeff VanderMeer • September 2nd, 2012 @ 6:54 am • Book Reviews

My google feed brought me this possible gem today: Atlas, by Dung Kai-Cheung. I’m buying it right now.

Here’s a description:

Set in the long-lost City of Victoria (a fictional world similar to Hong Kong), Atlas is written from the unified perspective of future archaeologists struggling to rebuild a thrilling metropolis. Divided into four sections — “Theory,” “The City,” “Streets,” and “Signs” — the novel reimagines Victoria through maps and other historical documents and artifacts, mixing real-world scenarios with purely imaginary people and events while incorporating anecdotes and actual and fictional social commentary and critique.

Much like the quasi-fictional adventures in map-reading and remapping explored by Paul Auster, Jorge Luis Borges, and Italo Calvino, Dung Kai-cheung’s novel challenges the representation of place and history and the limits of technical and scientific media in reconstructing a history. It best exemplifies the author’s versatility and experimentation, along with China’s rapidly evolving literary culture, by blending fiction, nonfiction, and poetry in a story about succeeding and failing to recapture the things we lose. Playing with a variety of styles and subjects, Dung Kai-cheung inventively engages with the fate of Hong Kong since its British “handover” in 1997, which officially marked the end of colonial rule and the beginning of an uncharted future.

Japan Times has this review, which reads in part, “The faux-scholarship in this section is beautifully done and is equaled, though in a different vein, in the next part, where we move from theory to The City, an entity approached not directly, of course, but through maps and documents such as Round the World on the Sunrise by John Smith, a chronicle of, among other things, Smith’s movements on Aug. 9, 1907, the day he spends in Victoria. In Smith’s account, with characteristic subtlety, Dung mocks colonial travelers and the memoirs that reveal their odd interpretations of cultures to which they can only condescend.”

Interview with the author here.

7 Responses to “Atlas by Dung Kai-Cheung”

  1. Daneel Lynn says:

    Dung is my favourite HK writer, whose ‘Androgyny’ might be one of the most important feminist sf in Chinese language, though just like other usual cases, he is still considered as a mainstream author.

    Unlike you or other new weird writers, he builds his Victoria City just from the histories/memories of Hong Kong but surrealises and blurs ‘the truth’ at the same time.

    I hope you would enjoy his works.

  2. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Daneel–I’m really looking forward to it. I’m thinking he might be a good fit for upcoming anthologies, if he writes short fiction, too. Is “Androgyny” a short story?

  3. Daneel Lynn says:

    ‘Androgyny’ is a novella, still suitable for an anthology.

  4. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Ah!

  5. Adam says:

    Sounds really interesting both in concept and structure. Definitely ordering a copy.

  6. PhilRM says:

    Damn it, Jeff! Stop mentioning books I can’t not buy! I’m running out of shelf space.

    On the topic of maps of non-existent cities, have you read Andrew Crumey’s Pfitz?

  7. Sofia says:

    Well, this is odd. The last time I saw this title, Alex Dally MacFarlane had just snatched it up at the discount table at WisCon. Still wish I’d gotten to it first.

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