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The Explosion Chronicles: A Novel by Yan…
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The Explosion Chronicles: A Novel

by Yan Lianke

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The Explosion Chronicles is the fourth novel I’ve read by award-winning Chinese author Yan Lianke, and once again it is a surprise that he is able to pen a fiercely political satire like this despite the Chinese censor.

That’s not to say that the book arrives unscathed: I have my doubts about the allusions to Chinese military expansion in the South China Sea. It seems to me that these allusions need more than is there on the page. Nevertheless, this satire about the Chinese economic miracle is a powerful denunciation of the human cost of economic development at any cost, and it seems angrier than the other Lianke novels I’ve read. Lianke’s humour has always been dark, but in this novel there’s not much humour at all.

As the title suggests, the novel uses the form of an ancient Chinese chronicle. In an excellent introduction, the translator Carlos Rojas explains that the predecessors of this chronicle go back to Sima Qian’s 1st century BCE ‘Records of the Historian’ which is a resentful lamentation on the rule of the Yellow Emperor. Sima Qian had been castrated for offending this emperor, so he had good reason to feel resentful and apparently he lists his personal setbacks alongside the achievements of his era. This chronicle became the model for 24 dynastic histories, each commissioned by the Imperial Court to chronicle the preceding dynasty.

Another historical genre as a source for Chinese history is the local gazetteer. These were regional histories comprising narratives, biographies and anecdotes, and Lianke binds these together in his Explosion Chronicles, along with Prefatory Material purporting to be the chronicler Yan Lianke’s Preface about his reasons for writing the chronicle and his negotiations with the character commissioning it; an end-of-book Postface purporting to be by the chronicler Yan Lianke justifying his chronicle to the outraged character who commissioned it, and an author’s note in which Lianke uses the term mythorealism to describe how literature can be used to expose the absurdity that lies at the heart of the new China. The Great Leap Forward, he says, was based on absurd decrees that people could actually reach targets like making steel or growing vast crops when they manifestly did not have the wherewithal to do it, but the Higher-ups persisted anyway. China’s growth, he says, is based on China trying to achieve in decades what Europe and the US have achieved in centuries.

This plays out in the novel in the development of the mythical village of Explosion from a village to a town, to a county and then a city, and finally a megalopolis, all over the lifetime of four brothers. This chronicle covers thousands of years, but it scampers over earlier periods, focussing squarely on the era after Mao’s death when the Opening Up and Reform movement began. Where Mao’s Collectivisation had upset the order of things by collapsing the power of agricultural landlords over peasants, the emergence of capitalism brings the rival clans of the Kong and Zhu families together when entrepreneurial initiative is unleashed.

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2016/12/26/the-explosion-chronicles-by-yan-lianke-translated-by-carlos-rojas/ ( )
  anzlitlovers | Dec 25, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802125824, Hardcover)

Man Booker International finalist Yan Lianke has been lauded for his imaginative satire and insightful cultural critique as "one of China’s greatest living authors" (Guardian). His internationally bestselling new novel, The Explosion Chronicles, follows the excessive expansion of a rural community from small village to megalopolis.

With the Yi River on one side and the Balou Mountains on the other, the village of Explosion was founded more than a millennium ago by refugees fleeing a seismic volcanic eruption. But in the post-Mao era the name takes on a new significance as the community grows explosively from a small village to a vast metropolis. Behind this rapid expansion are members of the community’s three major families, including the four Kong brothers; Zhu Ying, the daughter of the former village chief; and Cheng Qing, who starts out as a secretary and goes on to become a powerful political and business figure. Linked together by a complex web of loyalty, betrayal, desire, and ambition, these figures are the driving force behind their hometown’s transformation into an urban superpower.

Brimming with absurdity, intelligence, and wit, The Explosion Chronicles considers the high stakes of passion and power, the consequences of corruption and greed, the polarizing dynamics of love and hate between families, as well as humankind’s resourcefulness through the vicissitudes of life.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 29 Aug 2016 16:18:40 -0400)

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