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Thread: Yan Lianke - Dream of Ding Village

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    Default Yan Lianke - Dream of Ding Village

    Dream of Ding Village by Yan Lianke. Translated by Cindy Carter
    Corsair 12.99
    Reviewed by Leyla Sanai

    It was prescient that literary award winner Lianke’s novel was
    published
    within weeks of his fellow outspoken creative Ai WeiWei’s arrest. His
    uncharacteristic cowed silence since release suggests continuing
    government intimidation or threats.
    Lianke’s novel, based on a true blood-selling scandal, was banned when
    first published in China, which is ironic because he self censored it
    by toning down his initial idea to try and avoid the ire of the
    censors, having previously been banned for fierce satires criticising
    the authorities. He was left feeling as if he’d compromised his initial
    idea in vain.

    Lianke’s dedication to truth is clear: he worked undercover for years
    assisting a Beijing anthropologist studying the destruction of a
    Chinese village in Henan Province by AIDS in order to obtain the facts
    on which this novel is based.
    The tale is narrated by a dead child, poisoned by villagers resentful
    of the decimation caused by his father Ding Hui’s actions: Hui pounced
    on an initiative introduced by county officials to generate money by
    paying villagers to sell blood. Hui’s father, the narrator’s grandpa,
    is decent and worked as caretaker and teacher at the school, but his
    sons are weak, Hui becoming rich by unscrupulous blood-selling and
    Liang causing gossip by having an affair with his cousin’s wife.

    Hui milks the villagers of blood, sapping their strength, and his
    immoral cost cutting, re-using needles and swabs, leads to the spread
    of AIDS. As the villagers become too sick to tend their crops, Hui
    generates more income unethically by selling coffins donated for the
    sick by the authorities, and offering costly post-humous match-making
    services for victims. Grandpa has premonitory dreams which, together
    with his sagacity, place him in the role of wise village elder, but the
    villagers pay scant attention because of the behaviour of his sons.

    Lianke’s portrait of a small rural community hurtling to its demise
    through the greed of a few is powerful, sobering and untinged by
    sentimentality: even in the throes of terminal illness, villagers still
    scrabble for power, engage in petty conflicts, steal, bribe and
    blackmail. Lianke’s concession to the censors is obvious – blame is
    deflected from the authorities onto the avaricious criminal Hui, and
    the authorities are shown to implement measures to try and compensate
    villagers for the devastation wrought by AIDS. But at best, the
    authorities still appear naive, and the unspoken sub-text is clear –
    pushing high-tech medicine as a way of generating income without
    providing resources and expertise is so foolhardy it’s
    indistinguishable from amorality.

    The contrast between the simplicity of village life and the ravages
    that follow lend a cinematic quality to the prose: ‘Across the plain,
    those well enough to work were out in the fields. Their figures stood
    out beneath the distant sky like scarecrows swaying in the wind. And
    now, blowing in from the village, was another small figure, dragging a
    child behind her.’

    Occasionally, Lianke’s tendency to repeat key events seems superfluous,
    but this is a compelling and shocking story of a traditional village
    pillaged by the greed of a few. Lianke is masterful at capturing the
    red tape of bureaucracy: ‘a sheaf of documents...mainly memos about
    memos, notices about notices, all sent down from higher levels of
    government.’ And he is brutally honest about the difference money and
    power make, buying everything from an easy life to a sumptuous death in
    an ornately engraved tomb.

    Carter’s translation is fluid and natural, the only fault being that
    her avoidance of stilted speech leads to western
    colloquialisms/cliche’s (‘moth to a flame’, ‘mark my words’, ‘if looks
    could kill’, a dog running off with its ‘tail between its legs’, ‘get
    your arse out here’, ‘has the cat got your tongue?’) which occasionally
    sound out of place in the rural Chinese setting. But there are also
    wistful poetic images in keeping with the mood – grandpa dropped off
    by the bus ‘like a fallen leaf’; a philandering husband left by his
    wife and son thinking ‘if I die tomorrow, they’ll find me with two
    tears in my eyes: one for every good thing I’ve lost.’

    Both as faction specific for this scandal and as allegory for other
    tragedies that occur wherever egregious appetites of the elite lead to
    devastation of the many, this chilling novel's power belies its
    simplicity.

  2. #2
    Join Date
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    Location
    Glasgow
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    Default Re: Yan Lianke - Dream of Ding Village

    Formatting worked there with a trick...will try and reformat other two pieces from today.

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  1. Yan Lianke: Dream Of Ding Village
    By leyla in forum Asian & Oceanic Literature
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