Thursday, January 26, 2017

Review: "Brothers" by Yu Hua

There is just a little too much resemblances between this novel, Brothers by Chinese writer Yu Hua and the two longer books by 2010 Nobel Prize winner Mo Yan fro me to really get behind this book. It has the same strange plot, the same weird characters and the same sense of history that made the books Big Breasts and Wide Hips and Life and Death are Wearing Me Out such odd, unique pleasures, but here, in this novel, they can’t help but feel derivative, forced and more than a little lost in translation. This book, as well as those others, have a keen sense of history, but here, it is heavy handed in its execution, and might retroactively make me reconsider my thoughts on the three books of Mo Yan I have read, the other one being the kind of tepid in retrospect novel Frog. As the title suggest, it is about two brothers, related by the marriage of their parents, who each grow up during the rise and fall of China’s cultural revolution. There is Song Gang, the shy, introverted one who can’t quite gain the courage to chase his desires, but the real star of this novel is Baldy Li, who we first meet hiding out in outhouses hoping to sneak a peek at a girl’s butt. We learn that his father died in a similar fashion, and Baldy Li, named for his shaved head, seems destined to be guided and trapped by his aberrant sexual proclivities. The years go by and some really heinous, weird and funny things happen. Besides the two brothers and Lin Hong, a woman whom the two brothers fight over, seem real and three-dimensional. Hua seems hell-bent on creating a rigid narrative structure of victims and victimizers and it is hard to relate to anybody in this strange world, especially during the span of its 641 pages. It might be a cultural thing, but this this book offered a few laughs (wait till Wandering Zhou is introduced and you see what he is selling), enough for me to give it easy if slight praise.

Rating: 4/5

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