Qiu Xiaolong is a Chinese born mystery author and poet. He has created a wonderful mystery character in Inspector Chen. I have enjoyed two books in the series – Death of a Red Heroine and A Case of Two Cities. On Tuesday I will post my review of Death of a Red Heroine. Wednesday I will be posting my review of A Case of Two Cities.
Qui was born in Shanghai and grew up in China. While studying poetry in Bejing he translated the complete works of T.S. Eliot. He came to the United States in 1988 to write a book on Eliot. After the Tianmen Square Protests in 1989 it became public knowledge he had raised money for Chinese students. Fearing prosecution in China he stayed in America. He earned a doctorate in English and teaches at Washington University. He is currently a resident of St. Louis, Missouri.
Qui is both a poet and a translator of poetry. His mysteries have a unique feel to them because of the frequent quotations from Chinese poetry. The quotes do not make the books pretentious. They add to the setting, the plots and the personalities of the characters.
In Cara Black’s excellent interview she asks Qui if living in St. Louis gives him a “needed distance” to write about China. He agrees completely with her and provides a quotation in confirmation. He quotes Song dynasty poet Su Dongpo, "You cannot see the true face of Mount Lu, / Because you are in the mountains."
While I like the plots of the book I love the vivid portrayals of life in China during the 1990’s as the country undergoes a massive economic transformation while maintaining a Communist government. Qui’s books show how the leadership of the Communist Party had developed an elite status for themselves and their families in the 1990’s. What has happened to the socialist ideals that were at the core of the Party? His books delve into the values of a society in transition.
If you are interested in reading about Qui and the translation of Chinese poetry to English there is an interesting article at http://thebrowser.com/interviews/qiu-xiaolong-on-classical-chinese-poetry. Qui starts by explaining the challenges of translation “because classical Chinese poetry is rhymed and each line consists of five or seven Chinese characters, not to mention a specific tone pattern involving each character in the line”.
Sources for this post include his website is www.qiuxiaolong.com/, the biography in Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qiu_Xiaolong and the interview of Black at http://www.mysteryreaders.org/athomeqiu.html.