It has been a few years since the original publication of “Wütendes Feuer” (Furious Fire) by Fang Fang but luckily the book was finally published in German translation this year. Since the publication of her blog “Wuhan Diary” about her experiences after the outbreak of the Covid pandemic in her city the Chinese bestselling author has also become more popular in Germany.
“Furious Fire” takes part during the 1990s, a time of social change in China and tells the story of Yingzhi, a farmer’s daughter from the province Hubei. From the start of the novel it becomes obvious: This story won’t have a good ending because when we first meet Yingzhi she is on death row waiting for the execution of her death penalty.
Beginning with this grim setting Fang Fang tells us what happened before and eventually lead up until this point. Yingzhi once started a promising career as singer in a local band. But when she accidentally becomes pregnant – through something that I wouldn’t describe as consensual sex – she is forced to marry. Tied down to a lazy husband with a gambling addiction and in-laws who despise her Yingzhi’s future doesn’t seem too bright – until there’s the chance to start singing again.
Despite its unavoidable ending “Furious Fire” narrates the story of Yingzhi in a captivating manner with lots of suspense and even more empathy for its fallible, resilient protagonist. The novel is fast-paced and has a plot that mercilessly thickens more and more. I found it hard to put down the book and finished reading it very quickly.
Using the example of Yingzhi who is not only trapped in a loveless marriage but also in between social norms, double standards and misogyny, „Furious Fire“ shows how in late 20th century China social change and traditions crash into one another. Yingzhi relentlessly fights for a better life but is in danger of being crushed under the weight of society’s change.
In footnotes the translator Michael Kahn-Ackermann explains terms and cultural contexts with which German readers are probably not familiar. In an epilogue he educates the readers about the historical background of the novel. I especially liked these two aspects of the translation because they really helped me understand the cultural background of the novel a little better.
What I did not like as much about the novel were the partially painfully explicit depictions of violence. Reading such intense portrayals of violence always affects me. Because of that I find it important to mention a trigger warning or content note for domestic abuse and sexualized violence regarding this novel.
Even though these violent scenes of the novel weren’t quite my taste, I liked “Wütendes Feuer” (Furious Fire) a lot overall. The book is written in an extremely captivating manner and highlights an interesting chapter of Chinese history on the basis of Yingzhi’s fate. The book can be quite tough though. So I don’t think that it fits everyone’s taste. But it did fit mine.
Thank you Hoffman und Campe for this review copy! You can learn more about the book here.