Last Words from Montmartre
by Qiu Miaojin, translated from the Chinese and with an afterword by Ari Larissa Heinrich
An NYRB Classics Original
When the pioneering Taiwanese novelist Qiu Miaojin committed suicide in 1995 at age twenty-six, she left behind her unpublished masterpiece, Last Words from Montmartre. Unfolding through a series of letters written by an unnamed narrator, Last Words tells the story of a passionate relationship between two young women—their sexual awakening, their gradual breakup, and the devastating aftermath of their broken love. In a style that veers between extremes, from self-deprecation to pathos, compulsive repetition to rhapsodic musings, reticence to vulnerability, Qiu’s genre-bending novel is at once a psychological thriller, a sublime romance, and the author’s own suicide note.
The letters (which, Qiu tells us, can be read in any order) leap between Paris, Taipei, and Tokyo. They display wrenching insights into what it means to live between cultures, languages, and genders—until the genderless character Zoë appears, and the narrator’s spiritual and physical identity is transformed. As powerfully raw and transcendent as Mishima’sConfessions of a Mask, Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, and Theresa Cha’s Dictée, to name but a few,Last Words from Montmartre proves Qiu Miaojin to be one of the finest experimentalists and modernist Chinese-language writers of our generation.
Qiu's voice, both colloquial and metaphysical, enchants even as she writes from the familiar perspective of a spurned lover. It would be wrong to interpret the book's—or, for that matter, the author's—ultimate surrender to death as a rejection of the richness of life; rather, like Goethe's young Werther, this 'last testament' (an alternative translation of the title) affirms the power of literature.
Last Words from Montmartre is urgent, ecstatic, unbridled, and breathtakingly intimate. Qiu Miaojin is a writer who truly defies categorization, and this book, her last—part confession, part love letter, part fiction, part memoir, part suicide notes—is a thrilling testament to her original mind and impassioned heart.
—Sarah Shun-lien Bynum
Last Words from Montmartre is deeply, soulfully moving in its excruciating revelation of the author's innermost self, which is after all what makes the magic of literature. I felt a secret intimacy with Qiu Miaojin from the first page.
Qiu Miaojin...had an exceptional talent. Her voice is assertive, intellectual, witty, lyrical, and intimate. Several years after her death, her works continue to command a huge following.
—Tze-lan Deborah Sang
What makes Kerouac or Salinger timeless is not necessarily literary, but perhaps didactic: the fact that there is wisdom to be found at the fountain of youth, no matter what time one arrives. Of course, there is also a saintliness reserved for those authors who are able to make an interesting life story for themselves, and that order includes Qiu Miaojin.
—Bonnie Huie, PEN America blog
Qiu's unique literary style mingl[es] cerebral, experimental language use, psychological realism, biting social critique through allegory, and a surrealist effect deriving from the use of arrestingly unusual metaphors.
In Last Words from Montmartre, selves and emotions hurtle through time and space with terrifying force — both destructive and productive — and ecstasy and pain exist in very close proximity.
Last Words from Montmartre [is] intense, brutal and beautiful. A love letter and a suicide note.