Fang Fang captures the shock and panic at the start of the quarantine ... Because she is plugged into the cultural and academic worlds in Wuhan, there is a roll call of the deaths of many well-known artists, journalists and professors. There is an interesting sense, in this diary, of an intellectual proletariat ... This is an important and dignified book that nonetheless, in this adept translation by Michael Barry, has its share of dead space and repetition ... would have been twice as good at half the length. It’s a bit easier to praise, as Tom Wolfe said of the William Shawn-era New Yorker, than it is to read. Still, the urgency of this account is impossible to deny ... This book is most scorching in Fang Fang’s calls to hold to account the leaders who downgraded and minimized the virus, wasting nearly three weeks and allowing it to seep into the world at large. She rallies around this topic like Henry V pacing the floorboards before the Battle of Agincourt. She may live meekly during the lockdown, but she writes bold sentences.
Before the novel coronavirus engulfed the Chinese city of Wuhan, Fang Fang was already an award-winning novelist of realist fiction. But her chronicle of the lockdown of her hometown Wuhan might be her most lasting work ... Out of necessity, her diary supersedes any kind of traditional literary work, in both content and form ... Eventually, the censors came for Fang Fang. Loyal readers took screenshots of her entries before they were deleted, or helped repost entires on various other social media channels. Unfortunately, the English translation of her diary in book form is not able to capture this multidimensionality. Wuhan Diary loses much of its engaging, real-time nature by condensing her 60 entries into a single tome. Nonetheless, it is a heroic feat of speedy translation from veteran Michael Berry ... Still, readers in the U.S. will likely find many of [Fang Fang's] gripes about local officials and the burden of social distancing all too relevant ... remains significant as a document of the trivial, tragic and absurd during Wuhan's 76 days of lockdown. Such a document is especially important now, when so much of how the coronavirus spread — and what governments across the world did or did not do to contain it — is already being contested by the U.S. and China ... an important record how Wuhan's people suffered and ultimately persevered, even as the state wants to erase its initial fumbles from the official record.
... a welcome sense of earthy reality ... The book is strikingly critical of the Chinese Communist Party—the leaders in Beijing and, especially, the party cadres at the local level who suppressed the fact that the virus is intensely contagious ... On the other hand, the book presents an entirely human portrait of life in China. In fact—and this is the supreme irony—Fang Fang’s account makes clear that as the geopolitical differences between the Chinese regime and the United States grow by the day, the lives of middle-class Chinese meanwhile seem ever less exotic and ever more similar to those of Americans ... But looming in the background is China’s distinctive, intensely repressive political system, which stands apart. Wuhan Diary provides context and insight about the way it works in China at the ground level and for an individual writer.