Beijing's An Yu on Her Debut Novel 'Braised Pork' and Her Inspiration

By Ryan Gandolfo, February 13, 2020

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An Yu is a talented writer who originally hails from China’s capital city. Her debut novel, Braised Pork, has struck a chord with readers, telling the story of a young woman’s adventure following the death of her husband. 

Published by Harvill Secker, the book ventures deep into character profiles and follows themes of life that really hit home, with the story’s plot shifting from big city life (Beijing) to more spectacular geographic locations (Tibet). 

“Her novel has a cool, poised elegance that only adds to its enigmatic allure,” wrote The Economist, regarding her debut novel. “A startlingly original debut... While it’s easy to see that Braised Pork borrows something of Haruki Murakami’s brand of strange melancholia, there’s a startlingly original imagination of its own at work here... A sensitive portrait of alienated young womanhood,” The Guardian noted following the book’s release last month. 

Below, we hear from An Yu about her fantastic novel and the inspiration behind Braised Pork

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born and raised in Beijing, and spent some time living in New York, Paris and London. I received my MFA from New York University and Braised Pork is my first novel.

Image via Amazon

Where’d you get the inspiration to write your debut novel Braised Pork?
I am rather drawn to the idea of myths seeping into an urban setting, where experiences set within glass and concrete can be so uncompromisingly real yet somewhat abstract at the same time. The main parts of this story had been churning in my mind for a long time before I actually began writing them into novel form. I wanted to write a story about a woman overcoming loss and grief, searching for human connection, finding liberation and being forced to uncover things that she thought were long buried in her past. 

What goes into the creative process of creating characters, like Jia Jia and Ren Qi, and their backstories?
Sometimes, I’m more interested in characters’ lives off the page than on the page. For me, creating characters is more about getting a glimpse on the parts of their lives that we don’t have access to through the actions that we do see. So when I’m fleshing out characters, it’s important to know that everything they do – the responses they give, the words they say, the places they go – all come from somewhere, even if it’s entirely in their subconscious.  

How long did it take you to write Braised Porkand what was the hardest part?
It took almost three years to finish the final draft. To be honest, the most difficult part was getting it done. I was in business school at the time and finding the time and space to write and take the novel to the finish line was challenging on a daily basis. 

What has been the reaction from readers so far? 
It’s a surreal and humbling feeling to see people reading the book and discussing it. I’ve had the opportunity to chat with some readers and it means so much to me to hear their thoughts. They’ve given me insight into things that opened up the novel to me in ways I hadn’t imagined. 

How’d you get into writing? Was there someone who inspired you?
Ever since I was a child, I’ve always loved to tell stories. And then, as I grew older, I naturally began to write them down. First it was in bits and pieces – more fragmented thoughts, and then in college I began to write longer and more complete works. 

People in my family love words and books. Some of them write their own too. I grew up watching my parents and grandparents bury their heads in books and talk about them with so much passion that it’s hard to imagine a bigger and more profound inspiration. 

Are there any future works you’ve started planning that you would like to talk about?
I’m working on a second book right now. Very loosely speaking, it’s a story about a piano teacher who discovers a deep secret about her husband’s past and is forced to confront her own choices. 

Braised Pork is available on Amazon.

[Cover image provided by An Yu]

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