The Zither: A Novella
and New Short Fiction
from China

Guest-edited by
Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping
Series Editor Frank Stewart

Out of the Shadows of Angkor

Guest-edited by Sharon May
Christophe Macquet • Trent Walker
Phina So • Rinith Tang
Series Editor Frank Stewart

Featured in this volume is The Woman Zou, the third in a series of novellas by the distinguished writer Zhang Yihe. Born in 1942 in Chongqing, Sichuan, Zhang Yihe was wrongfully convicted of counterrevolutionary activities and sentenced to twenty years in a women’s prison. After serving ten years, she was released and allowed to return to Beijing. In 2001 she began writing novellas based on the lives of her fellow prisoners. She received the International PEN Award for Independent Chinese Writing in 2004 and was praised by the award committee:

Zhang Yihe’s writing is not only an indictment of the age of darkness, but it is also an affirmation of the indefatigable human dignity and a negation of all attempts to destroy this dignity… Zhang Yihe's work illustrates the rarely seen courage among contemporary Chinese writers to defend freedom, dignity and historical memories.

In this volume’s title story, “The Zither,” writer Yi Zhou uses recent history as a background. The story portrays the parallel lives of two elderly men. One of them, Elder Zhang, is a scholar of the Tang Dynasty poet Li Shangyin. In his youth, famine drove Elder Zhang to commit an unspeakable act, the enduring shame of which haunts him and, he believes, shapes his tragic fate.

The other stories by Yi Zhou in this volume—“Babel Did Not Leave Heavenly Garden,” “The Freewheeling Garden,” and “Isobathic”—involve young people in transition to adulthood and responsibility. Loneliness and nihilism propel them toward their encounters with self-knowledge, the elusiveness of dignity, and the problem of leading honorable lives. The four stories included in The Zither are Yi Zhou’s first works to be published in English translation.

Zhu Wenying is one of the leading representatives of post-seventies women writers in China. In her story “Mute,” two women who each face an existential crisis find it difficult to ask for help. One is a mother whose husband has abandoned her and their four-year-old autistic son. The other woman answers the mother’s ad for a nanny to help care for the boy. Without sentimentality, Zhu Wenying portrays the common fate of many women in modern society: enduring the disintegration of the family, bearing responsibility for abandoned children, and finding meaning in their isolation.

Guest Editors and Translators

Chen Zeping and Karen Gernant began collaborating on translations of contemporary Chinese prose in 1999. Together, they have published approximately sixty translations of short stories, novellas, and essays in prominent literary journals in China, the U.S., and the U.K., and online. Their book-length translations include Alai’s Tibetan Soul (MerwinAsia, 2012), Zhang Kangkang’s White Poppies and Other Stories (Cornell East Asia Series, 2010), and several books by Can Xue: Blue Light in the Sky and Other Stories (New Directions, 2006), Five Spice Street (Yale, 2009), Vertical Motion (Open Letter, 2011), Frontier (Open Letter, 2017), I Live in the Slums (Yale, 2020, longlisted for the 2021 Booker International Prize), and Purple Perilla (Common Era, 2020). ALTA longlisted their translation of Can Xue’s I Live in the Slums for the National Translation Award in prose. Forthcoming from Yale is their translation of Can Xue’s Barefoot Doctor.

Chen Zeping is professor emeritus of Chinese linguistics at Fujian Normal University. Karen Gernant is professor emerita of Chinese history at Southern Oregon University.


Robert van der Hilst was born in Amsterdam in 1940. He left the Netherlands at age twenty to travel and photograph, and has worked on five continents, with long stays in Cuba, Canada, Latin America, Japan, and China; he now lives in Paris. He has been featured in many exhibitions worldwide, and his work is held by such major galleries as the Centre Pompidou, in Paris.

With nearly 400 pages, Out of the Shadows of Angkor: Cambodian Poetry, Prose, and Performance through the Ages is an outstanding collection of classic and contemporary writing. The volume emerges from the thirty-year effort of a community to gather Cambodian literary and cultural works. In doing so, they not only translated rare works into English for the first time, but also helped to rescue writing lost during the Khmer Rouge regime (1975–1979).

Readers will find the following and more:

  • Cambodian writing ranging over fourteen hundred years, from the seventh century to the present;

  • translations of classical texts;

  • selections of modern Cambodian poetry, prose, and folk theater;

  • contemporary writings by Cambodian refugees and children of the diaspora living in countries from Australia to the U.S., Canada, and Europe;

  • visual art, including oil paintings and a graphic novel.

Excerpts from the overview essay by guest editor Sharon May:

“While writing is the most solitary of pursuits, the creation of literature and the communities from which it comes are often made from literary friendships, wherever in the world they reside. In the ‘golden age’ of Cambodian literature in the 1960s and 1970s, a community of writers thrived through such friendships and literary partnerships.

“I met Christophe Macquet, my literary cohort, in Phnom Penh twenty years ago through my friendship with Soth Polin; we communicated in our common language, Khmer, to the amusement of the café workers at the places we met; Christophe has spent a large part of his life translating and documenting Cambodian literature, as well as translating foreign literature into Khmer. I first encountered Trent Walker fifteen years ago on a sunny afternoon at Stanford University, when he was an undergraduate and had just spent a year learning smot singing in Cambodia; he has since become a brilliant translator of ancient Cambodian languages and an endlessly patient and generous literary colleague through the years of working on this book. I met Phina So in Cambodia years ago when the only literary festivals were not in Khmer; she has worked tirelessly to remedy that by becoming a writer, editor, publisher, and passionate community advocate for Cambodian literature and arts. The Khmer Literature Festival she founded in 2017 is now an annual event. I remember standing on the steps of the CKS library at that first inaugural festival, in October 2017, at Wat Damnak, in Siem Reap, in the same spot where, fifteen years earlier, a young poet had told me, ‘I am a Khmer writer. I don’t have much experience. But in my heart, I feel addicted to writing.’ Rinith Taing has been writing perceptively about Cambodian authors and artists for many years as a journalist based in Phnom Penh; he worked intensely on translations for this volume.

“The work included in Out of the Shadows of Angkor is just a part of the vast, diverse repertoire of Cambodian literature created by those born in Cambodia, in the camps, and in new lands. Soth Polin once told me, ‘What we have lost is indescribable...What we have lost is not reconstructable. An epoch is finished. So when we have literature again, it will be a new literature.’ We hope this book brings out of the shadows some of the lost, hidden, and emerging gems of Cambodian literature—past, present, and moving into the future.”

Out of the Shadows includes a foreword by Vaddey Ratner, oil paintings by Theanly Chov, and excerpts from a graphic novel by Tian Veasna.

More information:

Out of the Shadows of Angkor

192 pp., summer 2021 (33:1), $25
Project Muse

384 pp., double issue (33:2–34:1), $25
Project Muse