The Four Books

Yan Lianke, trans. from the Chinese by Carlos Rojas. Grove, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2312-1
Yan, a finalist for the Man Booker International Prize, pens a biting satire about Chinese re-education camps during the Great Leap Forward that’s as haunting as it is eye-opening. In this tale, intellectuals and dissidents are sent to a labor camp, where they promise to perform impossible tasks in order to gain their freedom. These intellectuals—“the Musician,” forced to prostitute herself for food; her lover, “the Scholar”; “the Theologian,” who ends up cursing God for his fate; and “the Author,” commissioned to write reports on the sins of the others, struggle for survival. Overseeing all of them is “the Child,” who is as vulnerable to the whims of his bureaucratic superiors as his prisoners are to him. As the prisoners careen from impossible production quotas to slow death by starvation, the Child eventually offers to sacrifice himself for their freedom, in a stark parody of both Maoist ideals and Christian scripture. Yan has created a complex, epic tale rife with allusion. He effortlessly moves from Eastern to Western references, and even readers without a background in Chinese history and culture will find his story fascinating and immersive. The novel is a stinging indictment of the illogic of bureaucracy and tyranny, but the literary structure is tight and the prose incredibly accessible. Readers will have difficulty putting this down. Agent: Laura Susjin, Susjin Agency. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/26/2015
Release date: 03/01/2015
Ebook - 407 pages - 978-1-925095-43-2
MP3 CD - 978-1-5113-0860-1
MP3 CD - 978-1-5113-6173-6
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-8021-2469-2
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