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Additional Information
ISBN: 9781931883986
Pages: 240
Size: 5 x 8
Publication Date: April 14, 2020
Distributed By: Publishers Group West

Lake Like a Mirror

by Ho Sok Fong
Translated from Chinese by
Natascha Bruce

“Dreamlike…[Ho Sok Fong] has created a world in these stories that is entirely, and uniquely, her own. Straddling the surreal and the pointedly political, Ho reveals herself to be a writer of immense talent and range.” —Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

“Excellent…Ho Sok Fong’s vivid imagination and keen eye for women’s pain, gracefully translated, are hallmarks of a deeply talented writer.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review


By an author described by critics as “the most accomplished Malaysian writer, full stop,” Lake Like a Mirror is a scintillating exploration of the lives of women buffeted by powers beyond their control. Squeezing themselves between the gaps of rabid urbanization, patriarchal structures and a theocratic government, these women find their lives twisted in disturbing ways.

In precise and disquieting prose, Ho Sok Fong draws her readers into a richly atmospheric world of naked sleepwalkers in a rehabilitation center for wayward Muslims, mysterious wooden boxes, gossip in unlicensed hairdressers, hotels with amnesiac guests, and poetry classes with accidentally charged politics—a world that is peopled with the ghosts of unsaid words, unmanaged desires and uncertain statuses, surreal and utterly true.


“Ho’s stories force the reader to cogitate uncertainty—that is the punch that Ho packs.” –Chicago Review of Books

“Dreamlike…[Ho Sok Fong] has created a world in these stories that is entirely, and uniquely, her own. Straddling the surreal and the pointedly political, Ho reveals herself to be a writer of immense talent and range.” Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

“Excellent…Fong’s vivid imagination and keen eye for women’s pain, gracefully translated, are hallmarks of a deeply talented writer.” Publishers Weekly, starred review

“[Ho Sok Fong’s] writing is beguiling and seasoned with striking imagery.” The Guardian

“Spiky, surreal short stories that probe the darker corners of Malaysian society, exposing uncertainties and hypocrisies with barbed humor. Ho Sok Fong’s flights of fancy never quite land where you expect them to, and Natascha Bruce’s sure-footed translation leads us adeptly through this treacherous landscape.” —Jeremy Tiang, author of State of Emergency

“Some short fiction exists in a space where the past exists only as a memory; other stories occupy a place where the ghosts of the past take literal form. The characters and scenarios in Ho Sok Fong’s Lake Like a Mirror occupy a liminal space between the two; along the way, the book offers a stunning sense of place and a powerful consideration of identity.” —Words without Borders

“Did a character turn into another character or the character into the reader? Did her body shape-shift into someone else’s shadow? We go back in the story. We read again. We reaffirm and slip again. And with every reading we understand a bit better. There is some work involved when reality drifts into another dimension, anxiety, but also moments of pleasure and joy. It does not just happen on its own. A structure makes it happen. Ho Sok Fong employs a structure in her writing. For her characters a structure exists in all the ways oppression takes a hold of a person.”—Full Stop

“Ho’s stories are powerfully unsettling not because they are strange, but because, especially for Malaysian readers, they are so familiar and real… Natascha Bruce’s masterful translation brings Ho’s stories to life in all their brilliance… While [Ho’s] subject matter mostly revolves around contemporary Malaysia and while she evidently draws on elements of Chinese modernist literature, Ho’s style evokes the work of European modernists, including Franz Kafka and Italo Calvino, two writers she has mentioned as major influences on her work.” —Mekong Review

“Striking… Ho Sok Fong’s fable-like constructions are sometimes cryptic, often surprising, and almost always moving.” Foreword Reviews

“[Filled] with characters attempting to navigate the boundaries of language, the boundaries of consciousness, the borders of all that is left said and unsaid…Ho’s stories are like ripples, concentric circles against the water that with every movement create a stronger and stronger force.” —phrase book

“You ever read a book so good it makes you want to learn a new language? That’s this book. These sentences are so beautiful, I want to hear them in the original.” —Devon Dunn, Book Culture (New York, NY)

“In this collection of short stories from Malaysian writer Ho Sok Fong, women have unsettling moments involving walls, trunks, hot air balloons, and lakes. They deal with being misnamed and misunderstood. The eerie and the mundane are laid side by side in Bruce’s translation, illuminating a world and culture at once dreamlike and utterly real.” —Annie Metcalf, Magers & Quinn (Minneapolis, MN)

“Veil-rupturing dispatches from the in-between, that’s what Ho Sok Fong has produced in these slyly discombobulating stories. Lake Like a Mirror‘s flickering heroines navigate indifference and uncertainty, consistently being upended by atmospheric blips that bend our understanding of how the individual is blurred and sublimated—or sometimes even energized—according to the strictures of their environment. A murky, destabilizing peek at radical existence under constraint.”—Justin Walls, Powell’s Books (Portland, OR)

Lake Like a Mirror is a fascinating and haunting collection of stories that have continued to linger with me long after I set the book aside. Ho Sok Fong’s talent is on full display is each of these slightly surreal tales all centered on women and how often they are pushed into the margins and cracks of society and made small. Though each story is different, they all feel part of one strange piece and serve as an amazing English language introduction to an exciting Malaysian talent.” —Caleb Masters, Bookmarks (Winston-Salem, NC)

Lake Like a Mirror is more evidence, if more were needed, that Chinese-language literature is thriving in Southeast Asia. Ho writes free from both the censorship that prevails in mainland China but also behind a linguistic veil that must to at least some extent shield her from the petty tyrannies that can sometimes be imposed by English and the internationalism that comes with it, a veil that is only drawn back for us readers by the efforts of her able translator Natascha Bruce.” Asian Review of Books

“The nine stories in [Ho Sok Fong’s] second collection are troubling and enigmatic, as they try to make sense of a society that seeks to oppress freedom. In precise and unsettling prose, each one considers, in its own unique way, the words that go unsaid and the lives that go unlived.” Irish Times

“The most accomplished Malaysian writer, full stop.” Promethean Fire Review

Ho Sok Fong is the author of the short story collections Lake Like a Mirror (Two Lines Press) and Maze Carpet. Her literary awards include the Chiu Ko Fiction Prize (2015), the 25th China Times Short Story Prize, and the 30th United Press Short Story Prize. She has a PhD in Chinese Language & Literature from NTU Singapore, and lives in Malaysia.
Natascha Bruce translates fiction from Chinese. Her work includes short stories by Hong Kong surrealist writer Dorothy Tse, Lonely Face by Singapore's Yeng Pway Ngon and, with Nicky Harman, A Classical Tragedy by Xu Xiaobin.

The sheet of white over her eyes and nose gradually lightened, shrank, pulled away from her face. It became weightless, took on a kind of glossy curve. She could clearly see an enormous white O emerging from her open mouth. 

Two Os. Three. She lost count. They floated up one after the other into the boundless blue of the sky.

No one saw, she thought. She had vomited white balloons. The father was sitting in front of her, of course he hadn’t seen. The boy was sitting next to her, but she didn’t know if his eyes had been open. He hadn’t stopped screaming for the whole ride. Oh, he definitely hadn’t seen: afterwards he said to her, “You weren’t sick.”

He looked confused. She could read the sentence that was hiding inside his chest: You see, you’re not like us.

As soon as they were off the ride, the three of them opened paper bags and violently threw up. Su Qin thought back to that morning, when they’d ordered hamburgers, 80 Summer Tornado rice au gratin, ham and chicken cutlets, fries, icy cola. She hadn’t tried to stop them.

They kept their heads lowered, convulsing in the same way, at the same tempo. They were so alike, from how they kneaded their stomachs to their dazed expressions as they tried to calm their breathing. She handed out tissues. When she collected their bags of vomit, she felt a wave of nausea.

It wasn’t just because they were another woman’s children. Even if she had given birth to them herself, they could still have grown up to be more like their father. But if they could become his children, maybe they could become her children, if she fought for it. If, if. If she loved them until she died. Maybe then they would have to talk to her, despite her obvious accent, and slowly, eventually, bit by bit, maybe they would love her back.

But they would still leave her. When she died, she would be alone, she would die a lonely old woman.