The Wooden Bird

The oar was lax in the old man’s hands. He stared at the once golden-haired boy, now as old as he was himself, waiting for a sign of recognition, proof that those days lying on the hot sand as the sun turned their bodies brown weren’t a product of his imagination. But the curly-haired man just stared at him, waiting to be rowed across the river. The old man’s heart clenched, but he picked up his oars and started rowing.

Gu Père

A few years ago, my dad came to visit me while I was living in France. On a night out, we went to the arthouse theater in Montpellier to watch a Chinese movie that had just come out. The movie takes place in Shanxi province, a few hundred kilometers west of Beijing, and when it started, I found I couldn’t understand any of the dialogue. All the words were spoken in the wrong tone, with the wrong stress, and yet they had a maddening similarity to Mandarin that made comprehensibility seem just out of reach. It was as though I’d had a stroke, and a portion of my mind’s speech center had been injured.