Evoking Studs Terkel, Shen Fuyu delivers a rollicking deep dive into working life in a small village in rural China, tracing the last 100 years of history.
Born in Shen Village in Southeast China, Shen Fuyu grew up in a family of farmers. Years later, Shen, now a writer, returned to his hometown to capture the village’s rich history in the face of industrialization.
Through his own childhood memories and those of his ancestors, Shen resurrects the working life of Shen Village through interlinked stories of fifteen artisans as their lives intersect over the course of a century. While Shen’s view of his hometown and his heritage is tinged with nostalgia, he does not romanticize it. Nor does he sugarcoat the backbreaking difficulty of life in rural China, but he still captures its small satisfactions and joys of loving one’s work with a great deal of care.
In an acerbic, earthy and unsparing style that swings from poignancy to comedy, sometimes within a single paragraph, Shen evokes the spirits of these workers–a bamboo-weaver and his beloved bull, a carpenter’s magical saw, the deserter who became the village lantern-maker and a rebellious woman who beats up her own kidnapper.
A reflection on the vicissitudes of small-town life during the epic shift from agricultural to industrial civilization, The Artisans vividly details the hardships, friendships, and communal mythmaking of a disappearing community.
JEREMY TIANG is a Singaporean writer, translator and playwright based in New York City. Tiang won the 2018 Singapore Literature Prize for English fiction for his debut novel, State of Emergency.