The news of the passing of American literary icon John Updike saddened the whole world. In China, the 76-year-old Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, who died of lung cancer on January 27, is deeply mourned by his readers. It is Updike's Rabbit series that opened a window to American society, and helped Chinese people know the true face of the lives and thinking of the American middle class.
"I now understand why I feel so familiar with the life of the hero under the pen of Updike," said Qiu Huadong, a Beijing-based writer whose writing has been greatly influenced by Updike, in an interview with the Beijing Times newspaper. "What he depicted are the superiority and worries of middle-class Americans, which are almost the same problems that China's emerging middle class is facing. The hero of the Rabbit series, Harry Rabbit Angstrom, seems to be one of my neighbors or friends."
"I like middles. It is in middles that extremes clash, where ambiguity restlessly rules."--John Updike
In the eyes of Qiu, Updike was one of the American writers who grasped the mainstream thinking of American society.
There are three Chinese editions of the Rabbit series in China. The latest one was published by the Shanghai Translation Publishing House in January 2008.
Feng Tao, editor of the newest edition of the Rabbit series, felt shocked after learning of Updike's death. According to him, besides the Rabbit series, his company has also purchased the copyright of three novel collections and two short story collections of Updike.
"He really is a master of letters in contemporary America and depicts the soul of the American middle class. His Rabbit series is very American," Feng said in an article in Wuhan-based Changjiang Times newspaper.
The Rabbit series, which includes Rabbit Run, Rabbit Redux, Rabbit Is Rich and Rabbit at Rest, is Updike's magnum opus that were published over a 30-year span. All the books in the series are closely related with each other, though each of them can be an independent novel itself.
The novels in the series tell the story of an ordinary American, including his work, marriage, extra-marital affairs, small victories and his death. Through the life of Rabbit, the writer presents the life of a common middle-class American against the country's social background during the first half of the last century. Apart from the books' leading personality, they also introduce around 150 figures vividly, as Updike dissects the society around him.
Updike himself once said that Rabbit represents the way ordinary Americans understand their country.
"My subject is the American Protestant, small town and middle class," Updike told an interviewer in 1966. "I like middles. It is in middles that extremes clash, where ambiguity restlessly rules."
Most of Updike's works are closely related to American culture and society. By telling stories of ordinary people, his books reflect social characters of the time. Some plots and figures in his books show changes in American culture, society and values.
Of the quartet of novels in the Rabbit series, Rabbit Is Rich and Rabbit at Rest won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1982 and 1991, respectively. Besides this, he also received numerous important literary awards including two National Book Awards and two O. Henry Prizes.
The Rabbit series was selected by The New York Times Book Review as one of the 25 best novels published in the United States in the past 25 years. The series was also considered a chronicle of that period in the United States.