An NYRB Classics Original
Last Words from Montmartre is a novel in letters that narrates the gradual dissolution of a relationship between two lovers and, ultimately, the complete unraveling of the narrator. In a voice that veers between extremes, from self-deprecation to hubris, compulsive repetition to sublime reflection, reticence to vulnerability, it can be read as both the author’s masterpiece and a labor of love, as well as her own suicide note. Last Words from Montmartre, written just as Internet culture was about to explode, is also a kind of farewell to letters. The opening note urges us to read the letters in any order. Each letter unfolds as a chapter, the narrator writing from Paris to her lover in Taipei and to family and friends in Taiwan and Tokyo. The book opens with the death of a beloved pet rabbit and closes with a portentous expression of the narrator’s resolve to kill herself. In between we follow Qiu’s protagonist into the streets of Montmartre; into descriptions of affairs with both men and women, French and Taiwanese; into rhapsodic musings on the works of Theodoros Angelopoulos and Andrei Tarkovsky; and into wrenching and clear-eyed outlines of what it means to exist not only between cultures but, to a certain extent, between and among genders. More Confessions of a Mask than Well of Loneliness, the novel marks Qiu as one of the finest experimentalist and modernist Chinese-language writers of our generation.
Moving in its honest revelation of her innermost self, [which is] after all the magic of literature.
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.