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The Four Books by Yan Lianke
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The Four Books (2011)

by Yan Lianke

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Tried, tried, tried, wanted to, wanted to, wanted, but after 60 pages, I aborted.
Dull as dish water. ( )
  thiscatsabroad | Apr 17, 2016 |
The Chinese Kafka

The Four Books: A Novel by Yan Lianke, translated by Carlos Rojas (Grove Press, $27).

Set during the Great Leap Forward, Yan Lianke’s latest novel is certain to earn him yet another visit—if it hasn’t already—from government operatives in his native China. His take on the mindless bureacracy and its unrelentingly grim forward motion toward forgetfulness can’t have pleased the Party hierarchy, who banned it in mainland China.

In a “re-education camp,” citizens named the Scholar, the Theologian, the Author and so on, work and repent their political sins under the watchful eye of the commandant, who is named the Child and has a rather passively infantile manner. The Child is not only responsible for the camp, but also under pressure from his superiors, which makes his position untenable.

Yes, The Four Books takes its title from the classics of Confucius, but also to four specific (fictional) books from within the camp, and perhaps even to the four gospels. Lianke is fearless and deft in his writing; as satire, The Four Books is also a great and absurd tragedy, more despairing because of its close links to reality. Think of him as the Chinese Kafka, in a lovely translation that’s almost impossible to put down.

Reviewed on Lit/Rant: www.litrant.tumblr.com ( )
  KelMunger | May 1, 2015 |
3.5 A camp for re-education during China's Great Leap forward, created a very disturbing read. Have thought about this book on and off for days. None of the characters have actual names, they are called by the profession that landed them in this no mans land. The author, sent to write a tell all book about her fellow internees, the Doctor, the artist and so on, all try to retain parts of their pasts. Books forbidden are hidden in various places, ferreted out and turned in by someone else for a reward. The camp is run by The Child, a very good name for one who throws tantrums and has unrealistic expectations.

This was written in a surreal but matter of fact depersonalized manner. Usually this would keep me from becoming involved in the story but in this case it represented the fact that no individual really mattered, only the collective and what they could produce. Of course, The Child's reward system did reward the individual, turning the camp into a reporters paradise, anyone who reported on anyone else for wrong doings was sometimes allowed a weekend home, even the chance of leaving the camp altogether. The matter of fact tone made this story for me, all the more chilling.

As we know the cultural revolution was a failure, producing famine and starvation which we also learn. A book that I am finding hard to get out of my head. Not for its graphic horror but because of its insidious evil.

ARC from the publisher. ( )
  Beamis12 | Mar 6, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802123120, Hardcover)

Acclaimed author Yan Lianke's The Four Books is a daring, darkly satirical story of the dog-eat-dog psychology inside a labor camp during China's "three bitter years" of famine. This mythical, symbolic, sometimes surreal tale portrays the absurdity and grotesquerie of this traumatic period, which has been a taboo subject for half a century.

In the ninety-ninth district of a sprawling labor camp, a group of intellectuals are imprisoned to restore their commitment to Communist ideologies. Here, the Musician and her lover, the Scholar—along with the Author and the Theologian—live inside a community where everyone is encouraged to inform on each other for dissident behavior. The prize: winning political favor and the chance at freedom. They're overseen by preadolescent supervisor, the Child, who delights in draconian rules, policing inmates' conduct, and confiscating books. When massively inflated production quotas in steel-making and grain-harvesting rise to an unattainable level, the prisoners exhaust themselves to meet their goals. As famine and inclement weather arrive, the inmates are abandoned by the regime and left on their own to survive. The Four Books captures the universal power of camaraderie, love, and faith against oppression and the darkest odds.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:38 -0400)

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