Lucas Klein at The Quarterly Conversation:
Ge Fei’s significance as an author is his ability to bring commentary on contemporary Chinese society into fiction aware of theories about fictional unreliability. As a child Cui’s friend Jiang Songping is described as “a natural politician,” able to convince everyone “that Antonioni was posing as a movie director in order to infiltrate our country’s borders and assassinate the Great Leader, Chairman Mao,” and also “that every pomegranate contained the same number of seeds . . . three hundred and sixty five”; Cui’s sister confirms her distrust of Jiang by counting a pomegranate and finding three hundred and seventy-one, but Antonioni was indeed denounced during the Cultural Revolution for his 1972 documentaryChung Kuo, Cina (likely as part of the Gang of Four’s campaign to undermine Premier Zhou Enlai’s engagements with the outside world). The plot of The Invisibility Cloak hinges on Cui’s plan to buy an apartment with money earned selling his prized Tannoy Autograph speakers—only in production from 1954 to ’74—which he bought at auction at a low price (and which were his only demand in the divorce); explaining the name, though, he writes, “Of course, the English word ‘autograph’ has plenty of direct equivalents in Chinese, but for whatever reason, someone in the hi-fi community translated it as ‘autobiography,’ and the mistake has been accepted as the norm.” China’s tortuous representations of the West and Western fiction’s self-aware blending of fact and factitiousness merge in Ge Fei’s depictions.
The “invisibility cloak” of the title is only mentioned in passing: detailing the mythology surrounding the previous owner of the Autograph speakers, Cui says, “The wildest story I heard was that he could show up at any event unseen because he wore an invisibility cloak.” Perhaps the shady buyer of Cui’s Autographs puts on such a cloak of his own, but if so it only earns the subtlest of suggestions; Cui does not make this connection himself. Or perhaps our external selves and dishonest interactions with others are cloaking our own inner lives and making them invisible.