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An Empty Room - By Mu Xin (New Directions)

Last update - Wednesday, June 1, 2011, 11:46 By Metro Éireann

An Empty Room is a collection of 13 short stories that take the human conditions at their heart and are narrated with flair and subtlety. Though each story stands on its own, one can perceive the flow that connects them all.

Each is narrated in the first person, embodying a different race, gender or history. Their author, Mu Xin, is reputed to be a solitary person who tries, as Mark Stevens wrote in New York magazine, to “cultivate the whispering power of reverie”. This characteristic heavily influences this slim volume, a collection that is replete with wistfulness that imparts to the reader the hunger to indulge in daydreaming.
What is most striking to me in these stories is that Mu Xin is not trying to argue and or convince – he just tells the story as it is, weaving transforming insights into ordinary everyday events, allowing the reader to sum what was read as they deem fit.
From the first tale ‘The moment when childhood vanished’ through ‘Fong Fong no 4’ to the closing story ‘The Windsor cemetery’, Mu Xin – translated here by Toming Jun Liu – gently nudges the reader to look ahead while looking back.
An Empty Room is a collection capable of invoking deep reflection that could take you back to the beginning or the middle or even the end, from childhood to the middle years to old age – seeking, prodding, looking to change, to make amends, striving to learn to start anew.
It is a wonderful collection, narrated without a hurry, making you want to slow down, to ruminate, and to enjoy even as you keep striding. Maybe this is why New York magazine hailed him as “a man that creates an art of communion, one that brings together the masters of each tradition and unites past and present.”
An Empty Room should be read, if for nothing else, to help us cultivate that power of reverie, to learn to slow down a bit for the finer details of life that elude us in our haste.

Ifedinma Dimbo, originally from Nigeria, is the author of She Was Foolish? More details about her work and the Irish Writers’ Exchange can be found at

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