Dream of Ding Village, Yan Lianke

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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?

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5 responses to “Dream of Ding Village, Yan Lianke

  1. Yes, I read it (and reviewed it on my blog – you can find it through my Index-Authors page if you are interested). It’s over a year since I read it, but I really liked it. I thought the narrator’s voice, the role of the older father, the greedy son, were all well handled. I liked the analysis of the different ways people behave under such stress. I hadn’t known about the plasma economy in China either. Horrifying. I think another book by him has been recently published in English but I haven’t read it.

  2. Sue, not sure I’ll be able to read another book by him. I found Dream of Ding Village quite traumatising on so many different levels. I think that for me the national implications of the novel over-took the personal details – I was drowning in the officialdom and the way that the government was approaching the disaster and so lost sight of the smaller details as they unfolded between characters – and I thought that the young couples’ demise was just so so tragic and terribly sad but poignant at the same time.

    One thing which I always find fascinating in a novel about a more traditional culture is the emphasis on family and personal honour and I think that stood out beautifully in this novel.

  3. Pingback: Tears of the Desert, Halima Bashir | Reviews from a Serial Reader

  4. Sorry, Justine, I was on the road much of the first half of May and didn’t see this response. I understand your feeling but I guess I feel it is “good” to be traumatised, because it is so easy for us not to really know what is going on (or has gone on) elsewhere. These novels now coming out of China and other more oppressed countries are telling us things we suspected but didn’t really know. It’s scary how some people will take advantage of a tough political regime and turn it to their own benefit. It’s understandable in one sense, but so depressing when you see how easily some people can do this with absolute callousness towards others. It’s one thing to strive to get ahead; it’s a whole other thing to do so by stomping on the heads of others!

  5. I agree, but it does’t make them any easier to read! It’s a bit like how I felt about ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’ – a loathsome story but an important one to read.

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