• Madeleine Feeny

Braised Pork with An Yu: A Virtual Literary Supperclub

'She imagined tulips ... The thousands of buds bloomed into white flowers, and one by one, the gradual opening up of each flower lulled Jia Jia a little deeper into sleep'

A Moveable Feast hosted our first live author event on Thursday 28th May, connecting readers locked down in London, Barcelona, Nairobi and North Carolina, and the author An Yu in Vermont. Set in Beijing, her haunting debut novel Braised Pork is the searching, dreamlike and strikingly original story of a young widow’s journey to self-discovery in the wake of her husband’s unexpected death.

When her life is abruptly upended, Jia Jia embarks on a psychological journey that causes her to question her other relationships, and her role and capabilities as an artist. It takes her deep into her own unconscious and on a personal pilgrimage to Tibet, where she comes face to face with her own dreamworld. Moving from realism to surrealism, Braised Pork is rich with symbolism and imagery, including the enigmatic ‘world of water’ a 'world with no barriers' and a surrounding mythology invoking white tulips and a mysterious ‘fish-man’.

'The darkness rippled like silk ... She held her breath and swam, deep, deeper'

Several participants designed tablescapes inspired by the novel, notably Maria Castellanos, whose set featured a gorgeous mass of tulips and Chinese tableware (top image). Using cardboard and tinfoil, I created silver fish (a recurring motif), and decorated the dining table with paintbrushes, tulips, candles and plates of pears and grapes (second image).

'Every so often, Jia Jia’s grandmother stuck her head out from the kitchen window and asked if they wanted pears … The plate of pears sat on the bedside table waiting'

At 7pm nine of us gathered via Zoom and I hosted a discussion about An's inspiration and the novel's exploration of relationships, isolation, family, grief, symbolism, food, art and creativity, and the pressures on young people in contemporary China. This lively and stimulating conversation, with its diverse personal responses and ideas, allowed us to get under the story's skin together. We’re so grateful to An for taking the time to speak to us.

‘you used to ask for braised pork every day when you were a girl. Pork belly tastes best when braised. Eat some more’

Afterwards I cooked braised pork with stir-fried carrots and mushrooms (in place of fungus) the meal Jia Jia’s father makes for his daughter and ate it with steamed rice and smashed cucumber salad. I drank white wine like Jia Jia, at Leo's bar.

Braised Pork by An Yu is published by Harvill Secker.

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