The explosion chronicles by Yan Lianke

 

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The explosion chronicle by Yan Lianke

Chinese fiction

Original title –  炸裂志

Translator – Carlos Rojas

Source – review copy

Yan Lianke is a writer I have read twice in the course of shadowing the man booker and IFFP before we have twice reviewed his books Dream of Ding Village and Four Books  . both of which showed the dark of modern day China .I am always saying I miss the Chinese novel that takes on these Mega cities that are now so vast and huge they are like a sprawling creatures on the chinese landscapes what it must be like to be in those place is what I want to know . Well this on the surface is partly what this is about the birth of one of those mega cities from a few small huts and house to a cities of millions.

Yuan dynasty

When explosion Village was first founded, it had about hundred residents. Because the village had Yi river in front and the Balou Mountain range in back, and because its fields were wide and flat, farmers would often gather there to barter and to buy and sell goods. As a result, the village gradually became a small marketplace.

The small start rather like a number of these megacties .

The novel follows the people of the city of explosion , I find an irony in the name as this is what these huge cities are explosions on the map in away and this is the tale of one of those told in its own history  .What we see is a small village lead by Zhu Ying father starts to expand the village , but he runs into trouble as there is a rival family the Kong family  there are two brothers they also what to be in on the growth of the city. Then  Zhu father is killed in strange circumstances so she leaves but like all prodigal children she returns and firstly runs a brothel then starts to become a serious businesswoman .Add to that marriages between the families , a large amount of back hash. backhands and blackmailing . A scene where a number of elders kill themselves and what we have here is the inside track of these monster cities birthed in the back and beyond and allowed to grow uncontrolled under no supervision into a mega city with a dark underbelly.

Democracy mixed with a thunderstorms, leaving explosions completely soaked.

Zhu Ying returned from the provincial seat the day before the election .By this point the rain had stopped, the sun had come out and the air was fresh. A sedan brought zhu Ying to the entrance  of the village, where she saw the enormous stele the town mayor had erected in her home. Then she strolled into the village .

Zhu Ying returns to her home town to get back what was theirs in the past .

Well I like this it still missed the sense of what it is for these place to be as an everyday person it had at times a traditional Chinese fable like feel to the story as it went on the brother the daughter scared by her father death a marriage to try to unite them these are all familiar themes in myths especially Chinese myths . Maybe what Yan is trying to say is these cities are in a way surreal and fable like growth places like Suzhou have expand since the Chinese since the post Mao reforms . He captures the madness of this world of backhanded and blackmailers. Like his other books he takes a look under the veil of modern china.This is my favourite book by him and worth reading for a take on modern China .

The four books by Yan Lianke

 

The four books by Yan Lianke

Chinese fiction

Original title – 创建“四书

Translator – Carlos Rojas

Source – Library book

Well I have mentioned before my struggle with Modern Chinese fiction a country so large and growing huge megacities that seems to lack at the moment books capturing the Zeitgeist of these cities and the madness of the growth. That aside this is the second book by Yan Lianke I have reviewed and both have been on the longlist for a prize the Last Dreams of Ding Village was on the old IFFP longlist and this is on the First Man booker. I maybe enjoyed Dream of Ding village than my fellow jurors a few years ago so had high hopes of a book that the writer himself had been working 20 years on and took two year to write. He want to write a true account of the Mao sent people for re-education.As Tony and I say there has to be an Issue book on the longlist and this is this years.

I recommend that the Higher-ups would be well served if they carefully monitor the Musician’s capitalist behaviour and tendencies. A single ant hole can cause an entire dike to collapse.We can not permit the Musician’s petty bourgeois feminine sensibility to infect our Re-Ed district.

Part of the sections called Criminal records, which is written by The Kid as he found a french novel in her poscket.Which he will later burn.

As I said in the intro The book follows a group of  intellectuals  that have in the late fifties been sent to one of Mao’s notorious re-education class.An author , Musician ,Scholar, Theologian and Technician all at area 99. In charge of these men is a younger man called the child part of the book is made up of his observations and how he punishes the prisoners that break the rules.This is all in the part called criminal records. Then there is bits of the Authors novel and two other books that could be described as works of philosophy. What we see is how These clever people,  have to bend and try to avoid being broken in a camp run by a teen that has been given to much power and has gone slightly crazy with it the horrors he inflicts are terrible to our eyes but in his is maybe like a modern kid playing some brutal video game.

the child was delighted, and even sang a little song. He turned around and waved, saying” hurry up! Now that we have produced a hundred tons of steel, we’ll finally be able to eat meat tonight ”

And in fact, they did have meat to eat. They weighted the steel, recorded the weight in a notebook, then used an abacus to add it all up. The accountant shouted in delight.”Ah you are the first to reach a hundred tons!” He grabbed the ledger and rushed into the building whereupon the higher-up took the ledger and walked back out smiling, he shook the child’s hand and said “Congratulations, this is wonderful.You are the first to reach One hundred tons”

They make Steel which they all hate but the child drives them to make himself look good .

I felt this book was better in its overall feel than dream of ding village. Yan Lianke has tried to tackle Mao’s great leap forward in a fresh honest way. I see it took more than 20 publishers to look at the book before he found someone willing to publish this book and it is still banned in the mainland of China. The men in the camp show how easy ir is to lose ones identity just been called by a name the way the camp is run remind me of the way Stanford prison experiment showed how people easily fit into the roles of prisoner being just a number or in this case a Job and then The guard shown by The kid that shows how easily power can take over a person in control. Yan Lianke has managed to life the lid on the brutal years of the Mao regime and the way the great leap forward broke and in many ways set the country back and maybe lead the country to the events in the country of the early 90’s .I expect this to make actual shortlist as Boyd seems to be a huge Chinese lit fan.

Have you a favourite Chinese writer

 

A perfect crime by A Yi

a perfect crime A Yi cover

 

A perfect crime by A Yi

Chinese fiction

Original title  -Xiamian Wo Gai Ganxie Shenme (下面我该干些什么)

Translator – Anne Holmwood

Source – Review copy

 

 

live in a town called Millhaven
And it’s small and it’s mean and it’s cold
But if you come around just as the sun goes down
You can watch the whole town turn to gold
It’s around about then that I used to go a-roaming
Singing La la la la La la la lie
All God’s children they all gotta die

My name is Loretta but I prefer Lottie
I’m closing in on my fifteenth year
And if you think you have seen a pair of eyes more green
Then you sure didn’t see them around here
My hair is yellow and I’m always a-combing
La la la la La la la lie
Mama often told me we all got to die

I choose a murder ballad from Nick Caves murder Ballad album another teenager going round killing people . source 

I said when this one arrived it was the first Chinese novel I had read the blurb of and thought I would like . I’ve not really hate the other Chinese novels I ‘ve read for me they miss what I want to see and that is the experience of living in a mega city or living in a country that is so in flux and yet so traditional in other ways . A Yi was a police officer for five years then turned his hand to writing first as editor at Chutzpah a lit magazine and he then moved to Xiron publishing where he set up a literary imprint “Iron Gourd ” he has written numerous short stories and has his own blog in China .He was on a list of 20 future literary giants in 2010 .

it struck me with an incredible force that she was letting me kill her . It wasn’t my decision to make . She was the one in charge , walking in front of me , leading me up the stairs towards her death .

“Why are you still wearing your cap ?” She said

“It’s part of the plan ” , I said

She didn’t understand , so I repeated . “It’s part of the plan ”

He is rather delude in some ways !!

A perfect crime this isn;t that at all ,of course the perfect crime is the one where the person doing the crime doesn’t get caught ! This book follows one teenager as he kills the Aunt whom he shares the house with and then tries to run away and get away with the crime .He kills her stuffs her in a washing machine and then decides to run . He some how in a country of billions manages to get capture where he is interrogated and sentence by the court  and then … Why did he kill her , why did he run ? The book follows a bleak teen into a bleak world .

My body kept sinking and I had to fight for the right to rest . Sometimes my poor hands would let my feet take the burden , sometimes the other way round .

“I need a pee ” I shouted at one point , the response to which was the sound of clanging from outside and then “go on then ”

In the middle of the interrogation after he is caught .

The book is told in short choppy chapters you see he is a writer that is maybe more at home with a short story eac h chapter is self-contained . Yet tell a part of the whole story  from the early stages to deciding to kill his aunt the killing then we see how he runs off in three chapter then we see the judicial and police process from the teenager view point . The whole story is told in the first person .This shows a brutal crime and the outcome . A Yi style is trimmed and brutal , he hasn’t hidden Chinese  police and justice systems behind rose-coloured glasses , no this shows the brutal nature of justice in China ! Now the cover mentions Kafka , Camus  among others . For me I was reminded of communist writers like Herta Muller a book like the appointment which like this book shows the inner working of the bureaucracy of Communism .But it is also about a world that is being lost clashing culture the aunt generation and the hi speed ,hi tech world of the teenager .A novel that lifts the veil of growing up faceless and in this case nameless in a nameless city that could be any one of a thousand small cities in china !

Have you a favourite Chinese novel ?

The dark road by Ma Jian

the dark road Ma Jian

The Dark Road by Ma Jian

Chinese fiction

Original title –  阴之道

Translator – Flora Drew

Source – Library copy

I have reviewed Ma Jian before his book stick out your tongue , which was like this book a book that had made the Independent foreign fiction prize list ,This is my first review after the long-list was announced and it is a writer I have enjoyed before .Ma Jian was born in Qingdao ,his education was cut short due to Mao’s cultural revolution .So he set about studying  a Chinese dictionary word by word ,moved to Bejing working as a photojournalist and also painting in the early 80’s he became involved with dissident movement .He published his first book in 1987 the one I read   a couple of years ago stick out your tongue .

“Keep out of this !” he replied , rubbing his cold red hands together .”Haven’t you read the public notice ? I f a woman is found to be pregnant without authorisation ,every household within one hundred meters of her home will be punished .You should reported her to the authorites before the child was born .As her next-door neighbour ,you’ll be fined at least a thousand Yuan .

The way the keep people in line making everyone a nosey parker and potential stool pigeon .

The dark road is another book set in the heart of china the china we don’t see .Melli is the main character in this book born into a peasant family ,we follow her journey down the Yangtze river with her husband Kongzi ,he was the teacher at the school in the village ,the pair have a daughter but due to the stringent One child rule at china (one that has only just been partly relaxed ) .The pair want a son so have to hit the road in this case the road is actually the river as we see them head through china to the south .Kongzi isn’t what he seems and is desperate for this second baby the son to carry on the family line .Along the way we see the ruin the rapid industrial growth of china has brought to the towns and river itself ,Also people lives who have been broken by the river a man looking for his mother that Melli briefly seems to connect with .Also over scandals like fake milk .All this as the pair try to avoid the state taking a potential second baby .

“Wait until your baby is born before you leave ” says Bo’s wife ,a scruffy women called Juru “You can give birth in the backstreet clinic behind the Family planning centre .The midwife only charge three hundred Yuan .

An example of the wry humor at times the backstreetclinc is next to theoffical family planning clinic .

This is a journey into the heart of darkness that is parts of modern china .Ma Jian is well-known as a critic of certain policies of the reigme ,but seeing this journey through Melli’s eyes it is hard not to avoid being critical of the regime ,from the piles of rotting junk at one point they work on sorting through ,to fake baby’s milk being sold .Then there is the vicious nature of the family planning police controlling the one child policy  also the widespread corruption .For me my heart just poured out for Melli a simple yet loyal woman who has a husband that rapes her ,people wanting to take her baby and then having to do a variety of vile jobs . The chapters all come with helpful bullet words at the start relating to the vital parts of each chapter  ,Thou the book has a dark sense to it ,there is also wry humour at times the sort of gallows humour that a world as dark as part of china in this book can bring  .As for translation it is near perfect as Flora Drew is Ma Jian wife and has already translated five of her husbands books .

Have you read Ma Jian ?

Ways of going home by Alejandro Zambra

ways of going home by Alenjandro Zambra

Ways of going home by Alejandro Zambra

Chilean fiction

Original title Formas de volver a casa,

Translator – Megan McDowell

Source Review copy

I have read him before Kim from reading matters sent me The private lives of trees a couple of years ago ,I read it but never review it so with Spanish lit month  in July I decided to review this now and The private lives of trees .Alejandro Zambra is a Chilean born writer he studied in Chile  a degree in Hispanic languages  ,and currently teaches in Santiago and contributes to magazines and papers in Chile his first novel was describe stunningly as “The publication of Bonsai … marked a kind of bloodletting in Chilean literature. It was said (or argued) that it represented the end of an era, or the beginning of another, in the nation’s letters” in El Mercurio .

THE NIGHT OF THE EARTHQUAKE I WAS SCARED

But I also, in a way enjoyed what was happening .

In the front yard one of the house ,the adults put up two tents for the children to sleep in ,and at first it was chaos because we all want to sleep in the one that looked like an igloo

As I said halves scared /but enjoyed

SO we get to ways of going home it is one of those short novellas that seem much longer and deeper after you have put it down if you know what I mean .It’s a book of memory and halves .The book is in two section we meet a young boy in the dark days of Pinochet’ s regime ,but our narrator has a fairly normal life as it appears to him in fact if anything slightly boring ,but then there is an earthquake and almost like the Shibbolth artwork (the crack in the floor of the turbine hall of Tate modern Doris Salcedo a fellow Latin american ),out of this crack  of the earthquake appears Claudia a slightly older girl than him, we  sense our narrators immediate attraction and liking of this girl as he spies on her from afar but getting closer  ,they get to know one another and she gets him to look at her uncle to she what he is up to.No as quickly as she appears, no sooner  has her and her family disappeared from his life but he never forgets her  ,til they meet in adult life  ,he is full of remorse for the violence of the Pinochet years and how him and his family didn’t do a lot ,Claudia family did that is why she went ,find out how these two getting together changes our narrators life for ever .Also what really happened during those years though unspoken at times is always lurking in the background .

When I was a child I liked the word Blackout .My mother would come and get us and bring us into the living room.”In the past,people didn’t have electricity “, she would say as she lit the candles .It was hard to imagine a world without lamps , without outlets in the wall .

As an adult remembering the past .

I said this is a book of memories our narrator rather like my self ,ok I didn’t have a violent dictatorship ,but had a bad divorce of my parents a step father I didn’t get on with and a being clumsy skin and tall was a target for bullying .But now as I look back on my younger years these events thou there are second place to family holidays ,evening spent with friends ,day trips in fact all the best bits .I feel this is our narrators problem his is the reverse as a child to him it all seemed wonderful he almost blanked out the bad parts ,til they reappeared in adulthood .I also said halves well-being young /being old ,being safe /having to run ,being quiet like the narrators parents / speaking out like Claudia’s  parents ,moving on /not forgetting.Also the shadow of the dark days of being Chilean in the 80’s looms large in the background   .Zambra is a writer of true  style in fact that sparse writing style that yet seems fuller ,like Carver did in his short stories the novella has been worked to a delicate lace of words that thou fragile and thin is truly beautiful .

Have you read Zambra ?

Do you have a favourite Chilean writer ?

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