Title: The Invisibility Cloak
Author: Ge Fei
Translated from the Chinese by Canaan Morse
Publisher: NYRB Classics
Genre: Novella, Literary Fiction
Source: The Boxwalla
Alright, just going to say this at the onset: Read this book. Read this book if you want to read something funny but also speaking of the capitalistic world, the brutality, what consumer goods do to us as individuals and as a society, and how in all of this we are trying very hard to make sense of ourselves.
This is the first Fei I have read, and I cannot wait to get to Peach Blossom Paradise (shortlisted for the National Book Award 2021 in the translations category). The Invisibility Cloak is a novella about modern China, full of urban malaise and surrounded by this listlessness, bringing with it deep undercurrents in the self and society at large.
Cui puts together hi-fi sound systems that audiophiles want to buy, and who ironically know nothing about music. His sister’s family wants him out of her unused apartment. He has no friends to speak of. His life is basically stuck and going nowhere. In all of this, he agrees to take on a job for a “mysterious person” without knowing what the future will look like for him.
The book is not necessarily dark, since it does have moments of humour and mystery to some extent. At the same time, Fei explores themes with great heft in such a short book – from friendship to the idea of hope to the role of the individual in the state to the different worlds that are being inhabited by people – the two Beijings, the grimy, ruined one and the one that is shiny and modern, both home to its people, to their aspirations, dreams, and shattered hopes.
Fei’s writing and Morse’s translation are both stunning. There are no disconnected or disjointed sentences. It all flows beautifully – one chapter to another. The Invisibility Cloak is one of those books that you read and wish it were longer.