Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: June 3, 2014
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When the pioneering Taiwanese novelist Qiu Miaojin committed suicide in 1995 at age twenty-six, she left behind her unpublished masterpiece, Last Words from Montmartre.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.
I'd put Last Words in a category that includes much of Kathy Acker and Henry Miller. Stein, too...It's a deeply personal text. Yet it bears reading and rereading an abundance of times.
—Eileen Myles, Bookforum
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
A flawless translation.
—Josh Stenberg, World Literature Today
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 mingles 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.
—Dylan Suher, Asymptote
This is a political novel. By the sheer act of honesty in her writing, Qiu was a political writer. Both of Qiu’s novels, as Qiu herself, are treasures and guides for the Taiwanese queer community. She did not want to ben invisible, as the government prefers of their queer population; she wanted to be heard and seen as an artist and her sexual identity was inextricably threaded through her works. Compartmentalizing parts of herself would have only meant compromise as an artist—and lack of purity. This is precisely why Ari Larissa Heinrich’s translation is so skillful because he is able to understand Qiu as an artist, including all her tiny nuances, and her importance as an artistic figure, which he so aptly addresses in his Afterword.
—Monica Carter, Three Percent
Echoing W. B. Yeat’s formulation, "only an aching heart/ Creates a changeless work of art”, the narrator believes that greatness is only achieved "if the artist has suffered through profound tragedy and death”. We must thank Qiu’s skilful translator, Ari Larissa Heinrich, for bringing this study of anguish from the Chinese to the English. "Only a spirit of artistic sincerity can console the souls of humankind," writes the narrator as her suicide nears. Readers of Last Words from Montmartre may agree. But who will console the artist
—Michael LaPointe, Times Literary Supplement
The chaos of the book’s construction is part of its intimacy, giving the reader access to memories as the narrator recalls them, to snippets of conversations as the narrator remembers them. It is also a reminder of the artifices of fiction…. Last Words is not just an epistolary novel but a collage in progress. It is the narrator trying to make us understand her own waxing and waning passions for various women and for her art, all while being honest about the fact that these ‘letters’ were deliberately written and organized to make the reader feel prolonged distress or flashes of joy.
—Shan Wang, Harvard Review