I wrote a novel about him once

Nov 15, 2014 | Things I wish I'd written

We ran along the railway,
arriving in some place called ‘the City’
where we trade in our youth, and our muscle.
Finally we have nothing to trade, only a cough
and a skeleton nobody cares about.

…from Skeleton, a poem by a young migrant worker in Shenzhen named Xu Lizhi who just jumped out of a Foxconn window. Read all about it here in the Washington Post.

This is bothering me because I wrote a novel about this guy, about him and the four million other hims in this city. You can read part of that novel here. Though when I knew him, he wasn’t yet good enough to write things like…

I swallowed a moon made of iron
They refer to it as a nail


Midnight. Everyone is sleeping soundly,
We keep our pair of young wounds open.
These black eyes, can you really lead us to the light?

I wonder.

A few weeks ago I heard Chang-Rae Lee say that he chose not to write a book about factory workers in Shenzhen, for reasons of his own, and in the room there was the sense that the book had already been written, that it wasn’t a new story.

I disagree. It’s never been written. A lot of white-guilt books have been written. A lot of literary zoos, for people with Creative Nonfiction degrees or automatic charity payments on their credit card, to gawk at and pat themselves on the back over. But not this story. Not at all. Not even close. Some stories only get told in the living and dying.