Monday, June 8, 2020

Q&A with An Yu

An Yu, photo by Tara Lengyel
An Yu is the author of the new novel Braised Pork. She lives in Beijing.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Braised Pork, and for your character Jia Jia?

A: For a while I’d been thinking about the ways in which we mourn the people we never loved.

In Jia Jia’s case, though she was in a loveless marriage, her husband was a fundamental aspect of what defined her. The aftermath of his death is a complex experience to unravel and its impact on her is profound in a way that isn’t the most straightforward and understandable.

The way she navigates her new life as a widow is not only affected by the nature of her marriage but also by things that happened during her childhood.

The idea of mysteries from the past resurfacing as the result of a present event is something that I find fascinating. I’m attracted to the messiness of it, and how it’s impossible to point to one thing that leads to another.

I wanted to take a deeper look into how we choose to move forward and how that can be so deeply connected to the ways in which we understand our pasts.

On another note, I’m also very drawn to myths coming to life in an urban setting. I think that oftentimes, the reality of a city is so disorienting that clarity can only be found in the abstract.

In that way, the world of water is so important to this story, as many of the characters are looking for some sort of clarity in there.

Q: In a review on, Annabel Gutterman described Braised Pork as "an original and electric narrative—one that doesn’t fit neatly into any genre." What do you think of that assessment?

A: Annabel Gutterman wrote such a kind and thoughtful review and I’m very honored to receive such praise.

The lines between genres are becoming increasingly blurred in literature today. I never really think about what genre I’m writing in. It’s liberating to write without a set of boundaries and guidelines, because that’s exactly what many stories are – they don’t fit neatly into any format.

Q: How was the novel's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?

A: Braised pork is Jia Jia’s favorite dish when she was a child. In a way, it doesn’t bear much more significance than that, but at the same time, it is a reminder of Jia Jia’s past, which is central to the book.

Sharing a meal is something so simple but also so intimate. I love the image of two people eating together. It’s an image that can feel very evocative to me.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from the novel?

A: I’d be glad if readers feel like they have something to take away from the novel. Every person experiences the same book differently, and what this novel means to me is not going to be the same for others, so I don’t want to say what the take-away should be.

My only wish is to write stories that people enjoy to read. That’s the most important thing.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on another novel. It’s about a piano teacher struggling to understand her husband after she finds out a secret that he’s been hiding from her.

At the same time, she meets a man who disappeared long ago, and their relationship begins to remind her of the weight of her decision to give up on becoming a concert pianist.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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