“Be careful trying to place blame, or it might come back to you,” Ceng Guangxian’s father warns him after the first time his good intentions end in ruin. Yet time and again as Guangxian comes of age, bad luck and his own desires for a bigger, better future wreak havoc upon his family, fortune, and social reputation, leaving him scrambling to find the causes of the mishaps that define his life. Dong Xi’s Record of Regret, here in its first English translation, introduces readers to a masterpiece of contemporary Chinese literature, and to the unparalleled tragicomic style of one of China’s most celebrated writers.
Set in the wake of China’s Cultural Revolution, the novel follows Guangxian from his days as a middle school student to adulthood as a lonely, middle-aged man. Guangxian’s path of misery—which he meticulously documents—is driven by absurdity: his discovery of two dogs mating leads to his father’s infidelity with a neighbor; Guangxian’s attempts to court a woman with the gift of a new dress result in his imprisonment for rape; he selects a spouse through a catastrophic game of chance, drawing from a set of names scrawled on crumpled pieces of paper. Guangxian’s guilty conscience and youthful understanding of morality compound these disasters.
Translated by Dylan Levi King to preserve the tone and engaging style of Dong Xi’s original text, Record of Regret provides English readers a look into a darkly humorous landscape of dubious loyalties and lessons, seen through the eyes of a man trying to find his place in an upside-down world.