I want to say that Ouyang Yu plays with language, but he doesn’t: what he does is recognise that language plays with us. This digressive, almost hallucinatory narrative unites Ouyang Yu’s abiding obsessions: identity, history, cultural hypocrisy, race, the nature of storytelling. How do we approach a story as loose as life – one that will honour the messiness of life lived in what cannot help being both its first and final draft? All the Rivers Run South is about the work of addressing oneself to history, to a history that cannot be told in one way (something which might also be said of Ouyang Yu’s own work). It recalls something Javier Marías said about fiction that in it, material truer than history is made available to us. The author creates history, giving us life as it is lived, and the struggle to make sense of that – as personal history, as geopolitical history – while remaining open to serendipity and to the death, figurative as well as literal, of the author, constituting history’s only guaranteed warrant. Ouyang Yu provides comfort for the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. All the Rivers Run South is a salve and salvo for anyone who has ever thought, with Calderón, that “man’s greatest crime is to be born.”
During the past thirty years the award winning writer Ouyang Yu has created the most challenging and innovative body of work this country has ever seen. The powerful energy of his genius, the rich stream of ideas and innovation in his poetry and novels, and in his essays and translations is evident in everything he writes, and never more so than in his enthralling new novel, All the Rivers Run South. For those interested in the exchange of ideas between Chinese and Australian culture, familiarity with Ouyang’s work is essential.