Gripping and compassionate, Land of Big Numbers depicts the diverse and legion Chinese people, their history, their government, and how all of that has tumbled—messily, violently, but still beautifully—into the present.
Cutting between clear-eyed realism and tongue-in-cheek magical realism, Chen’s stories coalesce into a portrait of a people striving for openings where mobility is limited. Twins take radically different paths: one becomes a professional gamer, the other a political activist. A woman moves to the city to work at a government call center and is followed by her violent ex-boyfriend. A man is swept into the high-risk, high-reward temptations of China’s volatile stock exchange. And a group of people sit, trapped for no reason, on a subway platform for months, waiting for official permission to leave.
With acute social insight, Te-Ping Chen layers years of experience reporting on the ground in China with incantatory prose in this taut, surprising debut, proving herself both a remarkable cultural critic and an astonishingly accomplished new literary voice.
Te-Ping Chen is a fiction writer & journalist whose debut collection of short stories, Land of Big Numbers, is forthcoming from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on February 2, 2021. Her fiction has been published in The New Yorker, Granta and Tin House. She is a Wall Street Journal correspondent in Philadelphia who was previously based in Beijing and Hong Kong. She has reported on rice cookers and wrongful convictions, gotten hung up on by Edward Snowden and eaten more robot-cooked noodles than she can count.
Read: Lulu, New Yorker
Review: A Journalist’s Eye Enlivens ‘Land Of Big Numbers‘, NPR
Prompt: Write the story of your birth and early life. Begin with the facts then embellish.