Literary Fiction

Review: Braised Pork by An Yu

A literary fiction story set in Beijing that explores loss and how it can shape a person's identity.


Disclaimer: I received an eARC copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. This blog contains affiliate links. I make a small commission when you decide to buy books via the Amazon or Book Depository purchase links available in the book review's post.


It is rare for me to read literary fiction, but when I do … well, it takes me a while to gather my thoughts and write a review. I read this in one day but it has taken me more than a week to actually write this review!

Braised Pork book cover

Braised Pork

by An Yu

Published December 16, 2020 by Harvill Secker
ISBN: 1787301877

Data from Goodreads

Summary (Goodreads): One morning in autumn, Jia Jia walks into the bathroom of her Beijing apartment to find her husband – with whom she had been breakfasting barely an hour before – dead in the bathtub. Next to him a piece of paper unfolds like the wings of a butterfly, and on it is an image that Jia Jia can’t forget.

Profoundly troubled by what she has seen, even while she is abruptly released from a marriage that had constrained her, Jia Jia embarks on a journey to discover the truth of the sketch. Starting at her neighbourhood bar, with its brandy and vinyl, and fuelled by anger, bewilderment, curiosity and love, Jia Jia travels deep into her past in order to arrive at her future.

My Review: I am confused

To say this novel is like no other would be an understatement. Even now, I am hard-pressed to describe it definitively as one thing or another.

The Pros: What worked for me

  • The writing style was absolutely beautiful. I liked the way the story would slip into this mystical water world and I wanted to learn more about this alternate reality.
  • The plot of the story itself is a mystery because every time you think it is about one thing, something else gets revealed and the story goes in that direction.

The Cons: What I didn’t like

  • I found Jia Jia’s character to be abrasive, not just to others around her but to the reader. It was hard to get a read on her when she was constantly shifting and changing in her mindset and it wasn’t always apparent when this was happening as there wasn’t always a trigger.
  • I struggled to understand what this water world was all about. Was it a real place or was it in her imagination? Did it have some basis in some Tibetan folklore? I just needed some more clarity here and it was missing for me.

This story was very unique, unlike anything I’ve ever encountered before. But this same characteristic about it makes me unsure on my feelings toward it. I think this novel had a very interesting message to convey – but it got lost in translation. There was just too much that I didn’t really feel like I understood about the story, and I needed that background in order to fully appreciate it. For those reasons, I’m giving this a 2.5/5 stars.

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