... a dazzling debut collection ... In a series of rich and varied portraits, mostly of life in China but including forays to Atlantic City, N.J., and Arizona, [Chen] unleashes a powerful and enticing new voice, at times as strange as the dark fairy tale master Carmen Maria Machado, at others as inventive as the absurdist king George Saunders — but always layered with the texture available to a foreign correspondent who has seen it all ... Story by story, in China and the U.S., Chen builds a world in which oppression and contentment coexist, not some awful near future but the bizarre here and now ... At its most elegant, a Chen story isn’t all an artful reimagining of a cool newspaper feature but instead something more imagistic and elemental, a reflection on how we all live, no matter where we live. The logic of her observations can be terrifying ... There is virtuoso writing, which serves to sharpen her political allegories.
... exquisitely observed ... The stories are tethered to the realities of political repression and class yet are imbued with elements of magical realism. Together, they create a vivid portrait of life in contemporary China that is stifled by state control and yet tinged with humor, irony and tremendous longing.
When seasoned journalists turn to fiction, I often think 'uh oh, here comes trouble.' ... Land of Big Numbers, the debut story collection from Te-Ping Chen [...] is as brilliant an instance of a journalist's keen eye manifesting in luminous fiction as one can find ... Chen [...] seems to have no problem at all bridging the divides of class, gender, and ideology. What else can explain this unlikely page-turner of a book, except her already envious career as an embedded journalist, reporting on everything from the Chinese criminal justice system to tech companies ... Pretty much everything about Land of Big Numbers is specific and keen yet somehow generalizable. These stories could appear as news right now, at any moment. They could be deeply reported longform features, even some of the magical realism detours Chen makes, such as a story about a life-changing, mind-bending new fruit. The broad strokes of it all, truly, could happen anywhere — maybe right where you are. It is a gift to read stories like this. Almost any one of them is worth the price of admission.