One autumn morning, Jia Jia walks into the bathroom of her lavish Beijing apartment to find her husband dead. Like something out of a dream, next to the tub Jia Jia discovers a pencil sketch of a strange watery figure, an image that swims into Jia Jia’s mind and won’t leave. The mysterious drawing launches Jia Jia on an odyssey across contemporary Beijing, as her path crosses some of the people who call the city home, including a jaded bartender who may be able to offer her the kind of love she had long thought impossible.
... outstanding ... Its characters, its stuttering plot, its surreal setting and An Yu’s ability to fold in the strangeness of the work into our own reality, make it unforgettable ... An Yu’s writing has, for evident reasons, been called Murakami-esque, yet it seems unfair when her voice feels so utterly original. It would be unfair to also compare this masterfully crafted work to a style defined by a man that created his own genre and as such was also, most often, defined by the men. Braised Pork is instead a unique, metaphysical and surreal tale of a woman that seeks answers in a world that has so often betrayed her with silence.
... an original and electric narrative—one that doesn’t fit neatly into any genre ... The isolation Jia Jia feels in widowhood clearly isn’t new, and is made palpable through Yu’s detached, dreamlike prose ... Another author might have chosen to follow a young widow on a journey of finding love after loss. But 28-year-old Yu, who was born and raised in Beijing, smartly decides not to. Instead, she uses 30-something Jia Jia as a way to explore the tensions of contemporary womanhood ... Yu’s language is sparse yet surreal ... Yu raises provocative questions about why we get fixated on those moments—and how they might relate to the company we crave.
... unlike Murakami’s whimsical, magical realist plots, Braised Pork’s central journey is interior: the incremental and circuitous process of a human mind trying to come to terms with itself. Reading, I thought not of Murakami but of Freud ... Reading along, you experience the feeling of slowly lowering your body into a dark pool, letting the water rise: now to your shoulders, now to your chin, now — ceasing to breathe — to the bridge of your nose ... This is a haunting, coolly written novel: deeply psychological but utterly lacking in theory or jargon. Yu’s sentences are unadorned, neither lyrical nor terse. Many are awkward, but this didn’t detract from the book’s appeal for me; if anything, I appreciated the rare refusal to mimic the looping sentences of lyrical prose stylists ... Though Braised Pork is not particularly special on the sentence level, individual scenes and descriptions have an impact that seems to bypass language and go straight to feeling ... The novel is also intensely atmospheric. Certain settings remain in my head like filmic images ... Though Yu does a wonderful job conveying the social paradoxes of contemporary Beijing, a trip to Tibet to follow the trail of the fish symbol is oddly shorn of political or social reality...The place feels like a backdrop for Jia Jia’s personal quest, serving merely to provide a sense of difference, and it all comes off as the equivalent of a white backpacker going on a journey of self-discovery to a country their nation colonized.