A summer 2021 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted thirty years of worsening climate impacts—and that nothing can be done to stop it. Heat waves. Droughts. Wildfires. Flooding. Given bleak environmental news, staggering global inequality (the world’s richest 1% hold more than 40% of the world’s wealth), a resurgent refugee crisis, and the growth of authoritarianism worldwide, young people could be forgiven for thinking they don’t have much to look forward to. “In this era,” author Takuji Ichikawa asks, “What should a novel look like?”

Contemporary Chinese literature can sometimes be a bit of a struggle, whether due to heavy doses of politics or surrealism; the subject might be obscure or the author self-consciously literary. However worthy these works may be, it comes as something of a relief, then, that Su Tong—of Raise the Red Lantern fame—stuck to good, old-fashioned storytelling in Petulia’s Rouge Tin, a novella just out as a Penguin Special.