Five Spice Street (The Margellos World Republic of Letters) (Hardcover)

By Can Xue, Karen Gernant (Translated by), Zeping Chen (Translated by)

Yale University Press, 9780300122275, 352pp.

Publication Date: March 24, 2009

Other Editions of This Title:
Paperback (4/24/2012)

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The first full-length novel by Chinese author Can Xue to appear in English

Five Spice Street tells the story of a street in an unnamed city whose inhabitants speculate on the life of a mysterious Madam X. The novel interweaves their endless suppositions into a work that is at once political parable and surreal fantasia. Some think X is 50 years old; others that she is 22. Some believe she has occult powers and has thereby enslaved the young men of the street; others think she is a clever trickster playing mind games with the common people. Who is Madam X? How has she brought the good people of Five Spice Street to their knees either in worship or in exasperation? The unknown narrator takes no sides in the endless interplay of visions, arguments, and opinions. The investigation rages, as the street becomes a Walpurgisnacht of speculations, fantasies, and prejudices. Madam X is a vehicle whereby the people bare their souls, through whom they reveal themselves even as they try to penetrate the mystery of her extraordinary powers.

Five Spice Street is one of the most astonishing novels of the past twenty years. Exploring the collective consciousness of this little street of ordinary people, Can Xue penetrates the deepest existential anxieties of the present day—whether in China or in the West—where the inevitable impermanence of identity struggles with the narrative within which identity must compose itself.

About the Author

Can Xue is the pseudonym of Deng Xiaohua, author of many novels and short works of fiction in Chinese. She lives in Beijing.

Praise For Five Spice Street (The Margellos World Republic of Letters)

"[Xue] blends surrealism à la Dali with a hefty dose of existential angst. Prickly and provocative, Five Spice Street poses penetrating questions about the search for identity and the definition of self."—Booklist

— Booklist

“There’s no other writer in China like Can Xue . . . strange, surreal, and very compelling . . . [and] this novel is probably the best place to start.”—Chad Post, Publishers Weekly

— Chad Post


Shortlisted for the 2016 Neustadt International Prize for Literature given by World Literature Today

— Neustadt International Prize for Literature