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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Matchmaker, the Apprentice,
and the Football Fan

Zhu Wen

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To purchase The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan

Title: The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan
Author: Zhu Wen
Genre: Stories
Written: (Eng. 2013)
Length: 166 pages
Original in: Chinese
Availability: The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan - US
The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan - UK
The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan - Canada
The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan - India
  • These stories were first published in Chinese between 1993 and 2009
  • Translated by Julia Lovell

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Our Assessment:

B : strong voices and fairly interesting case-studies of modern Chinese lives

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 1/9/2013 Alison McCulloch
TLS . 12/7/2013 Yiyun Li
Wall St. Journal . 29/6/2013 Sam Sacks

  From the Reviews:
  • "Even in this grim tale, Zhu manages to inject some of the sly humor that suffuses these stories, which, unlike some of the lives he describes, are never dreary." - Alison McCulloch, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Almost all of the stories in The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan are told in the first person, yet, depending on the angle and distance of the narrator, they exert different effects. The best are those in which the speaker never poses as an objective outsider. (...) Other stories are damaged by the urge to distance the narrator." - Yiyun Li, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Mr. Zhu occasionally offers derisive political critiques of the Cultural Revolution, the Great Leap Forward and China's rampant corruption. But mostly his characters turn their sarcasm and loathing inward on themselves. This may be a tactic to escape the censors, a matter of style or both -- whatever the case, the book provides a fascinating, often bleakly amusing, snapshot of China's urban anomie." - Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan collects eight stories by Zhu Wen; all except one were first published between 1993 and 1999 (with 'The Wharf', an outlier set in Tibet, first published in 2009). All the stories from the 1990s are narrated in the first person and are, to varying degrees, confessional. 'Mr. Hu, are you coming out to play basketball this afternoon ?' is the most obviously so, the narrator beginning his account by explaining that he wants to: "clarify everything that has happened;" (but claiming he doesn't want to try justify what he has done) even as the exact nature of his shocking transgression is only revealed at the very end of his story.
       Most of the narrators are of Zhu's generation, at university in the late 1980s, some taking to the streets "during the spring of 1989" -- but also just as quickly retreating. In the most overtly political of the stories, 'Reeducation', the class of 1989 is deemed, a decade on, not to have met the nation's expectations, and an entire generation is summoned back to school (and then out into some great unknown) in best Cultural Revolution-style for reëducation -- "to begin anew the process of forging us into rustless screws" in what is called Operation Rebake. Yet Zhu's stories tend to be retrospective, the narrators looking back -- and so too even in 'Reeducation', where the narrator describes how he has cut himself off from all ties with the state bureaucracy (and his old classmates) and hopes to escape Operation Rebake "by remaining quietly in the shadows", only to find his past catching up with him in the present-day (while then the exact nature of Operation Rebake and what awaits them all remains untold).
       Zhu's narrators tend to be loners, with women kept at some distance, the focus in their relationships on sex rather than intimacy (though they are not always able to escape the women's clutches). Yet people from outside family -- former classmates, for example -- are often significant figures, accompanying the characters, in one way or another, over extended periods of time. So also in 'Xiao Liu' the narrator writes about this eponymous character who was a student of his mother's during the Cultural Revolution; despite the fact that he was instructed to spy on the family, the mother was fairly supportive of him over the years and he remained close to the family.
       Zhu has a vigorous style and exerts a welcome firm command over what seem, in summary, often very meandering (over great distances and periods of time) stories; despite roaming so far all over the place -- like his often aimless protagonists -- these are tight and well-structured tales. There's no predictable arc to most of the stories, either -- 'Mr. Hu [...]' being an exception, even as in its roundabout presentation the punch of the ending is no less effective -- and Zhu presents an interesting variety of characters who, even if not entirely sympathetic, are intriguing. Many of the stories capture a specific Chinese generation, and those who never quite moved beyond their college years (even if they believe otherwise) particularly well -- an interesting glimpse of modern China. ('The Wharf', dealing with different circumstances and longings -- an architect who wants to see his creation, and a caretaker stuck in the boondocks (and his efforts to raise a pig) --, narrated in the third person, and with a very different sort of conclusion, is an odd (not-quite-)fit for the collection -- though admittedly the ending does make for a fine finishing flourish for the book.)
       Julia Lovell's translation seems to capture Zhu's strong narrative voices very well -- but there are some occasional jarring choices, most notably: "What Facebook was to the Winkelvoss twins the King of Faucets was to Xiao Liu" -- it simply doesn't ring right (and obviously wasn't what Zhu wrote in this story first published in 1999).
       The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan presents only a slice of modern, post-Maoist Chinese life, but it's a solid, well-written collection and certainly offers some interesting glimpses of life in modern China. Worthwhile.

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 July 2013

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The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan: Reviews: Other books by Zhu Wen under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Chinese author Zhu Wen (朱文) was born in 1967.

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© 2013-2021 the complete review

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