In 2017 Paper Republic selected Liu Zhenyun’s Chi gua shidai de ernumen 吃瓜时代的儿女们 as one of the best books in Chinese, noting:
Following his previous award-winning books such as I Did Not Kill My Husband and A Word is Worth Ten Thousand Words, Liu Zhenyun’s new book continues his typical sick humour and absurdism. The lives of four unrelated strangers turn out to be interconnected in ways both ridiculous and serious. The ‘melon-eating masses’ (a trendy Chinese online term which often refers to a passive group of bystanders at a major incident or event) often find the most amusement in the worst misery of others. Under its funny surface, the book evokes reflections on China’s social mentalities and characteristics.”
This bestseller is now available in English, thanks to legendary translation team of Dr. Howard Goldblatt and Dr. Sylvia Li-chun Lin, as Strange Bedfellows. Professor Jeffrey C. Kinkley (St. John’s University) commends the book, noting:
This translated version reads wonderfully well, with Liu Zhenyun’s usual minimalist style faithfully rendered by the translators, Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-chun Lin, whose translation skills are universally recognized as impeccable.”
A Caixin Global article asks: “Have Chinese people turned into a bunch of passive watermelon eating spectators?” and explains:
Liu Zhenyun, one of China’s foremost contemporary writers, is tackling the dicey question of apathy in his new novel after a five-year hiatus. And the book is selling like hotcakes. The title of Liu’s book plays on a popular internet meme used when people are indifferent to what’s happening around them. It was coined last year after a bystander who witnessed a fatal traffic accident told a reporter, “I know nothing, I was eating a watermelon.” Liu, 59，is known for his politically-charged storytelling and says it’s his absurd and hilarious comedy that has allowed him to “play with fire without getting burned.”His latest novel shows how internet vigilantes who claim to be “passive bystanders,” in fact help connect the fates of seemingly unrelated characters. It starts with Niu Xiaoli, who is in debt after paying a 100,000 yuan ($15,177) dowry to help her brother. But after the bride disappears, Niu ends up working as a high-end escort hired by business tycoons for an “extra bit of help” when securing government deals. Then we switch to the life of provincial governor Li Anbang, who is on the verge of being promoted when his son runs over a pedestrian. Then there is the Yang Kaituo, head of the provincial highway authority bureau, who is caught smiling at cameras while inspecting a major bridge collapse. Angry netizens also notice he is wearing a luxury watch and start digging into his illicit gains. The plot reaches a climax when they uncover that both officials were trading power for sex.