“Land of Big Numbers” Review

Four images in the shape of China are shown on the cover in various colors one half covering the other downwards. The title of the book is over the images.Land of Big Numbers
Written By Te-Ping Chen
Published by Houghton Mifflin, February 2021
256 pages
Completed: May 20, 2023

“Gripping and compassionate, Land of Big Numbers traces the journeys of the diverse and legion Chinese people, their history, their government, and how all of that has tumbled—messily, violently, but still beautifully—into the present.”

“Cutting between clear-eyed realism and tongue-in-cheek magical realism, Chen’s stories coalesce into a portrait of a people striving for openings where mobility is limited. Twins take radically different paths: one becomes a professional gamer, the other a political activist. A woman moves to the city to work at a government call center and is followed by her violent ex-boyfriend. A man is swept into the high-risk, high-reward temptations of China’s volatile stock exchange. And a group of people sit, trapped for no reason, on a subway platform for months, waiting for official permission to leave.”

“With acute social insight, Te-Ping Chen layers years of experience reporting on the ground in China with incantatory prose in this taut, surprising debut, proving herself both a remarkable cultural critic and an astonishingly accomplished new literary voice.”

I enjoyed all of the stories in this book one way or another. Some were a little confusing – but I’m pretty sure that was a the point in at least one case. Things were happening for basically no reason at all besides government regulations. Each story was interesting with good characters to learn about. That said to some degree I did feel like there could have been more variety in the stories told or at least more depths to the “why” of things if there was a specific cultural element to everything. Not that things have to be explained to outsiders but I felt like something was missing from some of the stories.