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Mourning a Breast

368 pages
Paperback, 21 x 14.8 cm
Published July 2024
ISBN 9781923106109

Mourning a Breast

Xi Xi

Translated by Jennifer Feeley

In 1989, the cult Hong Kong writer Xi Xi was diagnosed with breast cancer, and began writing to make sense of her illness and its treatment. The book she wrote was heralded as the first Chinese-language work to cast off the stigma of speaking frankly about disease, a disarmingly honest and personal account of her experience of a mastectomy and subsequent recovery.

Mourning a Breast takes a kaleidoscopic approach to the experience of illness, chronicling the author’s days in all their variety: not only her evolving relationship to her body and medicine, but also literature and movies, food and clothing, friendship and solitude. Xi Xi describes her experiences with humour and quiet attentiveness – in swimming pool changing rooms, at tai chi classes in the park, in conversations with friends. All the while, she explores the arcades, streetscapes and skyscrapers of Hong Kong, offering a portrait of a city full of life, on the verge of enormous change. Now translated into English for the first time, Mourning a Breast is a radical, generous and wise book about creation in the face of grief.

Using language that was deceptively simple, almost childlike, Xi Xi infused her fiction and poetry with eclectic references to literature, cinema, art, architecture and fairy tales… Her work captured the unease of Hong Kong’s transition to Chinese rule, gave voice to the city’s children and working-class residents, and helped put it on the literary map.
The New York Times

Mourning a Breast engages an innovative mix of writing drawn from multiple genres and disciplines, all centred on the exploration of an unwelcome sign – a tumor inside a breast. Xi Xi transports us from the technique of stitching skin to the process of splicing film for an experimental movie, and moves freely between her post-surgery feelings about her renovated bathroom and a public debate on the architectural design of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. Xi Xi would be delighted to read Feeley’s attentive and even playful translation, especially given that translation is one of the book’s key motifs. A brilliant reader of her own illness, Xi Xi regards a literary work, a person’s body, and the earth itself in need of continuous translation and interpretation.
Dorothy Tse

The breast is the epicenter, where the complexities of society, literature, translation, personal care, history, art, and identity converge and transmute into a deeply felt and profoundly original narrative. Mourning A Breast is the story of Xi Xi’s own experience, translated by Jennifer Feeley with precision and a subtle undertone of celebration, a generous invitation to navigate the depths of womanhood, of cancer, with humor and unflinching honesty.
Xuan Juliana Wang

About the Author & Translator

Xi Xi

Xi Xi(1937–2022) was born in Shanghai and moved to Hong Kong in 1950. Over the course of her career, she wrote several books of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, as well as numerous screenplays and newspaper and magazine columns. In 2019, she became the first writer from Hong Kong to win Newman Prize for Chinese Literature, and her literary career was the subject of the 2015 documentary film My City. Upon its initial publication in Taiwan in 1992, Mourning a Breast was named by the China Times as one of the best ten books of the year.

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Jennifer Feeley

Jennifer Feeley is the translator of Xi Xi’s Mourning a Breast, Not Written Words: Selected Poetry of Xi Xi, and Carnival of Animals: Xi Xi’s Animal Poems, as well as Chen Jiatong’s White Fox series and Wong Yi’s Cantonese chamber opera libretto Women Like Us. Her forthcoming translations include Lau Yee-Wa’s Tongueless and Xi Xi’s My City. She is the recipient of the 2017 Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize and a 2019 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Translation Fellowship.

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Reviews

[A] superb work of autofiction… Xi’s matter-of-fact prose and in-depth analysis are deeply satisfying. This is a must.

Publishers Weekly