Winter Pasture. One Woman’s Journey with China’s Kazakh Herders
Deeply moving…. full of humor, introspection and glimpses into a vanishing lifestyle. — Sebastian Modak, The New York Times Book Review
A warm portrait of stark, strenuous lives in remote China…A rare look at a disappearing world. — Kirkus Reviews
Chinese journalist Juan makes her stateside debut with a magnificent tale about traveling through the freezing tundra of northern China… A seamless blend of memoir, travelogue, and nature writing, Juan’s skillful prose paints an extraordinarily vivid picture of a remote world…This mesmerizing memoir impresses on every page. — Publishers Weekly, starred review
Li Juan spent minus-20-degree nights with nomadic herders in the Chinese steppes. You’ll want to join her. — Laura Miller, Slate
Near the end of Winter Pasture Li Juan asks herself what it means to be ‘a passerby’ in the lives of others. Her intimate depiction of a family of Kazakh herders is itself an answer to that complicated travel writer question: to connect the reader with people and stories she likely otherwise would never encounter. In doing so, Li Juan is an empathetic, interrogative, and entertaining chronicler. She offers up a fascinating portrait of life in one of the world’s most remote corners. — Rachel Friedman, author of The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost
More than just an exotic travel diary, Winter Pasture reflects on the relationships not just between humans and nature in the harshest of environments, but also between the Han Chinese and China’s Kazakh minority. — LitHub, “10 Chinese Women Whose Writing Should Be Translated”
Then there is Li Juan, who may be as far outside of the system as Chinese writers are able to get and still publish. She lives and writes in the Altay region of Xinjiang, in western China, musing on nomadic lifestyles and the turning of the seasons….Whatever quality this is [of hers] — strength of character, disregard for the opinions of others — it is the closest thing China’s literary scene has got these days to the spirit of dissent. — Eric Abrahamsen, New York Times
Part travelogue and part cultural exchange, the book luxuriates in wide-open spaces and the simple wonder of the everyday…The book balances both beauty and accessibility on every page. — Gretchen Lida, Washington Independent Review Of Books
Li Juan’s Winter Pasture: One Woman’s Journey with China’s Kazakh Herders was an impulse pickup in the library one day when I walked by the shelf, and preserves in the translation by Jack Hargreaves and Yan Yan much of Juan’s humor in living with a nomadic family, building shelter out of dung, and a way of life fast disappearing. — Callum Angus, The Millions
Winner of the People’s Literature Award, WINTER PASTURE has been a bestselling book in China for several years. Li Juan has been widely lauded in the international literary community for her unique contribution to the narrative non-fiction genre. WINTER PASTURE is her crowning achievement, shattering the boundaries between nature writing and personal memoir.
Li Juan and her mother own a small convenience store in the Altai Mountains in Northwestern China, where she writes about her life among grasslands and snowy peaks. To her neighbors’ surprise, Li decides to join a family of Kazakh herders as they take their 30 boisterous camels, 500 sheep and over 100 cattle and horses to pasture for the winter. The so-called “winter pasture” occurs in a remote region that stretches from the Ulungur River to the Heavenly Mountains. As she journeys across the vast, seemingly endless sand dunes, she helps herd sheep, rides horses, chases after camels, builds an underground home using manure, gathers snow for water, and more. With a keen eye for the understated elegance of the natural world, and a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor, Li vividly captures both the extraordinary hardships and the ordinary preoccupations of the day-to-day of the men and women struggling to get by in this desolate landscape. Her companions include Cuma, the often drunk but mostly responsible father; his teenage daughter, Kama, who feels the burden of the world on her shoulders and dreams of going to college; his reticent wife, a paragon of decorum against all odds, who is simply known as “sister-in-law.”
In bringing this faraway world to English language readers here for the first time, Li creates an intimate bond with the rugged people, the remote places and the nomadic lifestyle. In the signature style that made her an international sensation, Li Juan transcends the travel memoir genre to deliver an indelible and immersive reading experience on every page.
Translated by Jack Hargreaves and Yan Yan.
BW Photos Throughout.
- Recommended by translator Catherine Xinxin Yu in her interview with Asymptote published on July 31, 2023