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How Does a Woman Become a Writer?

I loved memoirs, autobiographies, and collections of letters as well as fiction I thought autobiographical. While my little boys were choosing the books they’d bring home from the library, I was seeking out what I myself wanted to read. I admired Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, Françoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse, Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, and everything Margaret Drabble wrote.

I read and reread Drabble’s early novels—A Summer Bird-Cage, The Garrick Year, The Millstone—as though every word were not only true, but addressed to me personally. A talented and accomplished woman with a degree from Cambridge, Drabble knew all about the challenges of combining motherhood and a career. With three children to bring up, she had somehow managed to become a celebrated novelist. There was a husband, who was an actor, and I was not surprised when I learned they eventually divorced.

The writers who mattered to me were all older than I was—Margaret Drabble and Margaret Atwood are about ten years my senior—and the ones who mattered most—Muriel Spark, Doris Lessing, and Mavis Gallant— were from my mother’s generation. They all had some- thing in common with me, as well, in their familiarity with corners of the world once controlled by the British, and in t …

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From Taxi Driver to Shenzheners: Publishing Xue Yiwei’s First Book in English

Book Cover Shenzheners

Publisher Linda Leith on how one of the most influential recent books in China came to be translated into English as part of the CanLit canon. 


This story starts with Yan Liang, a Canadian friend who was born in China and lives in Montreal. She’s a journalist at Radio-Canada International and a distinguished literary translator into Chinese (she has translated Kim Thuy and Esi Edugyan, among others). A couple of years ago—in February 2014—she called me up to let me know about another Montrealer born in China, a writer named Xue Yiwei whose new short story collection, Taxi Driver (2013), had recently been chosen one of the most influential books of the year in China.


By the time the three of us got together at Café Pekarna on Ste-Catherine Street on a wintry afternoon, Yan had sent me more information about Yiwei. I’d learned that his novel Desertion was one of the top ten 2012 books in China. That another novel, Dr. Bethune’s Children (2012,) had been banned in China for political reasons. That he was considered “the most charismatic …

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