Fiction, Translation

Headscarf Girl

New fiction by Cao Kou – translated by Josh Stenberg

Cao Kou’s short fiction often masquerades as the casual recollection or chatty anecdote of a youngish male first-person narrator. People who have lived in Chinese cities will recognize this streetscape, with its gritty locales and paucity of private space. Non-Han Muslims are a visible part of that landscape, especially in eateries like the one where this Han narrator has started taking meals. The protagonist is attracted to the “headscarf girl,” but he combines this with an incuriosity so fundamental that he likely doesn’t know her name; her vanishing at the end earns only a shrug. This brief anti-romantic tale speaks volumes about the realities and anxiety of the intersections of gender, ethnicity and religion in the contemporary Chinese metropolis, and it is likely this unease which had led to it being published here for the first time, rather than in China. – Josh Stenberg


I’m not even exaggerating when I say that I’ve eaten at all the places to eat near where I live. And there’s one or two where I’ve eaten lots of times, so there’s an owner and a waitress, both women, that I’ve gotten to know.