Three stories by the Chinese experimental writer Can Xue

by Kitty Drake in March 2021
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Art & design Literature

Purple Perilla is a collection of three stories by the Chinese experimental writer Can Xue. It is the third edition of Isolarii, a new magazine that seeks to revive a Renaissance genre of the same name. Isolarii translates to ‘island text’, and each tiny book is conceived as a world unto itself; an island from which to view a subject anew.

Apparently, Can Xue writes for one hour a day without rereading or edits. The stories in here read like dreams: in Purple Perilla, a boy goes to live with his friend and friend’s grandmother, who may or may not be wolves; in An Affair, a woman tries to track down the author of an anonymous love letter. What I like about Xue’s writing is the way it mixes the metaphysical (people who are spiritually wolves) with the lusciously physical; some of my favourite passages describe food in mouth-watering detail: “Roses, sticky rice, brown sugar: the porridge was the most enjoyable thing in life”.

Purple Perilla has a translucent dust-wrapper, and it coloured tones of purple and green on the inside. Isolarii is etched in raised lettering on the inside flap, satisfying to run your finger over.  There is no introduction to Can Xue’s work; you’re simply plunged into it, with absolutely no context. This is a little discombobulating, but it is a unique experience to be picked up from your world and set down, with so little ceremony, on another. Miniscule and perfectly formed, it takes less than an hour to read Purple Perilla from cover to cover. Spending an hour on this island is a delight.

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