Hear Ye! Since 1998.
Please note: This post is at least 3 years old. Links may be broken, information may be out of date, and the views expressed in the post may no longer be held.
16
Sep 10
Thu

Brothers

I ordered a copy of Yu Hua’s Brothers after a friend referred it to me as “one of the most brilliant books” he’s ever read.

The 600-page story recounts the divergent paths of two Chinese step-brothers as they grow up through the tumult of the Cultural Revolution, and burst into today’s age of rampant capitalism. During it, we get an insight into the Chinese culture and mindset, as well as multiple glimpses of how totally fucked up things can become.

I’m by no means a Sinophile, but there are some cultural aspects I can understand, if not empathize with. This book, however, takes things to extremes. I was warned it was a brutal read, and that it was. Many of the scenes depicted in the book are so extravagant, so excessive, so intense, so bizarre, and so surreal, that it seems a completely fanciful work of fiction. The opening chapter, for instance, starts off with the tale of our protagonist “Baldy” Li who is caught peeping at women’s butts in a communal toilet. His mother is distraught, since her husband had died years ago while doing the same thing (except that he slipped, fell into the muck and drowned). After enduring a lengthy public shaming, Baldy Li instead capitalizes on the event, telling his story to lecherous men in exchange for bowls of house-special noodles. The book is filled with stories like this.

Yet, I got this sneaking suspicion that in China especially – land of 1.3 billion and flush with money – truth is stranger than fiction and many of the events in the book – if they have not already happened at one point in history – are at least feasible.

Brothers is sometimes painful, often entertaining, and always interesting. It moves from tragedy to tragedy, interspersed with periods of fun, happiness, hilarity, and “WTF” moments. Black humor is pervasive. And you will never read phrases like “artificial hymen” and “straw-embedded bun” as many times as you will in this book.

  9:13pm  •  Books  •   •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment