This was one intense and extremely disturbing book. I’m not sure quite what to say about it. On the one hand, it presents a very satirical and thought provoking depiction of life in China’s rural areas: the power of the government officials, the dichotomy between rich and poor, the rites and rituals which characterise the culture of the region. On the other hand, the characters in this novel and the tender way in which they are described and nurtured is so touching that it is hard to balance this with the satirical nature of the text. I found myself feeling a very contradictory set of responses to this novel and I am still not quite resolved in my overall reaction to it.
What I found most disturbing about this story was its context; an Aids epidemic in China. This touched me on many levels. Firstly, and most obviously, I knew nothing about this tragedy and when I did a quick google search I discovered that the reports in the media corroborated Lianke’s perspective in this text. We have heard so much about the spread of Aids in Africa that the same disaster in China seems to have taken a back seat … Secondly, the spread of this “fever” was a direct result of government sponsored blood collections which were an inspired way that the Chinese officials decided to boost the economy in these small rural enclaves. The entire novel is constructed around the hypocrisy of this situation, the double standards, and the warped perspectives of villagers and officials alike.
On some level, this novel reminded me of the art works of Ai Wei Wei, specifically his installation called Remembering. I love Wei Wei’s work but I think that I found Lianke’s novel too confronting on some level. Perhaps I am yet to digest it … Anyone else read it?