Land of Big Numbers: Stories

Land of Big Numbers: Stories

By:  Te-Ping Chen

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“Gripping and illuminating . . . At the heart of Te-Ping Chen’s remarkable debut lies a question all too relevant in 21st Century America: What is freedom?” —Jennifer Egan

“Immensely rewarding, from the first sentence to the last . . . An exceptional collection.” —Charles Yu

A “stirring and brilliant” debut story collection, offering vivid portrayals of the men and women of modern China and its diaspora, “both love letter and sharp social criticism,” from a phenomenal new literary talent bring great “insight from her years as a reporter with the Wall Street Journal” (Elle).

Gripping and compassionate, Land of Big Numbers traces the journeys of 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.

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  • Format: eBook

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780358275039

  • ISBN-10: 0358275032

  • Pages: 256

  • Price: $9.99

  • Publication Date: 02/02/2021

  • Carton Quantity: 1

Te-Ping Chen

Te-Ping Chen

TE-PING CHEN's fiction has been published in, or is forthcoming from, The New Yorker, Granta, Guernica, Tin House, and The Atlantic. A reporter with the Wall Street Journal, she was previously a correspondent for the paper in Beijing and Hong Kong. Prior to joining the Journal in 2012, she spent a year in China as a Fulbright fellow. She lives in Philadelphia.
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  • reviews

    A Most Anticipated Title of 2021 from Elle,O Magazine, Buzzfeed, Newsweek, Refinery29, Lit Hub, The Millions, Bustle, Redbook, The Rumpus, Electric Literature, Write or Die Tribe, Autostraddle, and The Buzz Magazines 

    Named a Most Anticipated Title by a Woman of Color for 2021 by R.O. Kwon in Electric Literature 


    "A stirring and brilliant collection of stories probing the contradictions and beauties of modern China, Te-Ping Chen's debut is both love letter and sharp social criticism. Through scenes firmly planted in reality as well as tales of the bizarre and magical, Chen reveals portraits lovingly rendered with insight from her years as a reporter with the Wall Street Journal." 



    “Brimming with tales of men and women in modern China desperately seeking a sense of reinvention.” 

    O, the Oprah Magazine 


    "Chen’s debut short story collection explores the vast and diverse experiences of Chinese people, both in China and its diaspora globally, blending history, sociopolitics, and touches of magical realism in stories about people just trying to survive, and maybe even thrive." 



    “Gripping and illuminating, Land of Big Numbers offers intimate glimpses of the seductive power of state control: the Faustian bargaining it requires of its citizens, the landscapes and lives it forces them to discard in exchange for material prosperity. At the heart of Te-Ping Chen’s remarkable debut lies a question all too relevant in 21st Century America: What is freedom?” 

    —Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad and Manhattan Beach 


    “Immensely rewarding, from the first sentence to the last. Te-Ping Chen's writing is clear-eyed, pitch perfect, skillfully restrained and quietly powerful. I will be returning to these stories again, to enjoy them, be consoled by them, and marvel at them. An exceptional collection.” 

    —Charles Yu, National Book Award–winning author of Interior Chinatown 


    “Subtle, haunting, beautiful short stories of life in an unfree society.” 

    —Steve Inskeep of NPR's Morning Edition, said on Twitter 


    “A razor-sharp collection of stories spotlights the varying experiences of the Chinese diaspora through a multitude of finely wrought characters.” 



    “Te-Ping Chen's Land of Big Numbers is ripe with prose both sharp and beautiful. There is a rare brilliance and a feeling of necessity imbued in every word of these stories. At each story's end you feel wonderfully more awake, more connected and alive. This essential collection reminds us clearly that there is magic and violence all around us. This is a stunning debut.” 

    —Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, New York Times–bestselling author of Friday Black 


    “Revelatory . . . Chen explores modern Chinese culture by examining myriad facets and exigencies of life there, reflecting on the past and present, anticipating the future. Chen writes with an almost hallucinatory lucidity about the minutia of a person's everyday experience, whether it's what it's like to work in the stock market or have an endless daily commute, nothing escapes Chen's observations, which are astute and clear-eyed, even as she occasionally throws in elements of the surreal in order to better capture the oddities of daily life.” 



    "Chen takes us to China and introduces us to a lively cast of characters...As a former foreign correspondent, Te-Ping Chen is well acquainted with the geography of the place and the people, and her intimate knowledge is sure to shine through in this debut." 

    Lit Hub 


    "First-hand observations of contemporary China converge into this stunning debut collection...Chen’s fiction is a satisfying literary read as well as precise cultural criticism." 

    The Millions 


    "Exciting...Told with tongue-in-cheek twists and moving across genres, Land of Big Numbers is a thrilling trip through modern-day China." 

    Bustle, Most Anticipated Debuts of 2021 


    "Readers will find nuanced depictions of life in modern-day China featured in this short-fiction collection from a stunning new voice in American letters." 

    Bustle, Most Anticipated Titles of 2021 


    "Highly recommend...Brimming with tales of men and women in modern China desperately seeking a sense of reinvention." 



    “An expansive look at modern China, as it struggles with the influence of the past and envisions a new future. Chen offers both realism and magical realism throughout the collection, which allows her to tackle her vision of Chinese culture with both clear-eyed practicality and dreamlike allegory.” 

    Electric Literature 


    “Puts a spotlight on the diversity of China’s people, their history, and government. Oscillating between precise realism and playful magical realism, the stories feature a woman stalked by an ex-boyfriend, citizens trapped on a train for months, and more.” 



    “A spectacular work, comic, timely, profound. Te-Ping Chen has a superb eye for detail in a China where transformation occurs simultaneously too fast and too slow for lives in pursuit of meaning in a brave new world. Her characters are achingly alive. It’s rare to read a collection so satisfying, where every story adds to a gripping and intricate world.” 

    —Madeleine Thien, author of Booker finalist Do Not Say We Have Nothing 


    “This debut story collection is absolute fire. It has the great quixotic feel of being both ancient and modern all at once. I think fans of Megha Majumdar, Kamila Shamsie, and Jhumpa Lahiri would love this one!” 

    —Amy Jo Burns, author of Shiner 


    “An intricately constructed, tenderly observed collection—the sort of stories that skillfully transport you into the daily experience of characters so real, who speak to you with such grace and tangible presence, that you could almost reach out and touch them. Through the lens of these different voices, each vividly alive, Te-Ping Chen shows us how much life, loss, and quiet pleasure exists in the world, just out of view.”             

    —Alexandra Kleeman, author of You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine and Intimations 


    Wall Street Journal correspondent Chen emerges as a fiction powerhouse, each of her 10 stories an immersive literary event...Traversing continents and cultures, moving effortlessly between China and the U.S., Chen deftly presents everyday lives that entertain, educate, and universally resonate.”    

    Booklist, starred review, Review of the Day 



  • excerpts



    The hour of our birth had been carefully forecast, a winter’s day cesarean timed to coincide with Dr. Feng’s lunch break. The doctor pulled me out first, indignant, squalling, like a hotel guest inexpertly roused and tossed before checkout. She came next, and was so perfectly quiet that at first they worried she wasn’t breathing at all. Then they thwacked her on the back and her cries joined mine and they laid us side by side, boy and girl, two underwater creatures suddenly forced to fill our lungs with cold, dry air. 


    Dr. Feng had operated on my mother as a favor to my uncle, his old classmate. Otherwise we would have been born in the hospital down the street, where a woman had bled to death after a botched cesarean the previous year. The family had been in the waiting room for hours, and at last the father-to-be pounded on the doors of the operating room. When no one responded, the family pushed them open to find the lifeless woman on the table, blood pooling on the ground. She was alone: the staff had stripped the medical certificates that bore their names from the wall and fled as soon as the surgery went wrong. 


    From the start we were lucky, not least because we had each other. As twins we’d been spared the reach of the government’s family-planning policies, two winking fetuses floating in utero. For the first few weeks of our life, our skulls had matching indentations from where they’d been pressed against each other in the womb, like two interlocking puzzle pieces. Later in life when we were apart, I’d sometimes touch my hand to the back of my skull when I thought of her, as if seeking a phantom limb. 


    We weren’t in any way an extraordinary family. My mother worked as a warehouse clerk, my father a government sanitation planner. When my father was forty-seven, his division chief ?— ?a fanciful man who had once dreamed of being an artist?—decided to build a public toilet in the shape of a European clock tower. He’d been to Europe and had been impressed by the cleanliness of the toilets and the loveliness of the architecture and wanted to combine the two. Like most artists, the division chief had a fragile ego, and shortly after my father balked at the project’s expense, he was fired. It was the sole act of independence he’d committed in his life, and it cost him his career. 


    The toilet still stands there today, its vaulting concrete walls stained and ridiculous, the inside chilly and damp like the inside of a pipe, a bird of poured concrete plunging from the tower’s top as if being defenestrated by rival birds inside, and indeed the whole structure smells like a foul aviary. You wouldn’t think it cost 200,000 yuan to build, and probably it didn’t, Lulu said; most of it likely ended up in the division head’s pocket, art corrupting life, life corrupting art. 


    From the time she was ten, my parents worshipped at Lulu’s altar. Her precocity was evident early on; it was like a flag being waved energetically from a mountaintop. Neither of our parents had much education, and it stunned them to find themselves in possession of such a daughter. 


    When we were small, we played devotedly together. Lulu was a great inventor of games, which often incorporated whatever she’d read most recently: one day we were stink bugs, looking for the right leaf on which to lay our eggs, another we were herdsmen fleeing Mongolian invaders. She was braver than me: once, when the elderly woman who lived opposite us had left her door ajar while retrieving the mail downstairs, my sister even snuck into her apartment. 


    “It’s full of newspapers, stacked as high as your head,” Lulu said excitedly, her eyes glowing as she dashed back. “There’s a giant orange cross-stitch on her couch, with a peony and six fishes.” 


    As a child she was always reading. Even at meals she would sit and scan the back of the juice box. She must have read it a million times: aspartame and xanthan gum and red no. 9. It wasn’t a conscious thing; she just seemed to feel uncomfortable when her eyes weren’t fastened to a page. She had a mania for lists, too. By age eleven she’d memorized every bone in the human body, and she used to recite their names to me at night in an eerie voice as I held a pillow over my head: sternum, tibia, floating rib. 


    In high school, I rebelled against her brilliance by playing video games, lots of them, spending hours whipping a gun back and forth across dusty landscapes empty of people, except for those who wanted to kill you.

Available Resources

Related Categories

  • Format: eBook

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780358275039

  • ISBN-10: 0358275032

  • Pages: 256

  • Price: $9.99

  • Publication Date: 02/02/2021

  • Carton Quantity: 1

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