China in Ten Words by Yu Hua, Duckworth £16.99 (4/5 stars), reviewed by Siobhan Murphy in The Metro (free newspaper, London), 25 April 2012, p. 39. The translator, not named in the review, is Allan H. Barr.
I'm posting this because it is the second review of a Chinese novel that I’ve spotted this year in The Metro (free London newspaper). The first was Geling Yan’s The Flowers of War, translated by Nicky Harman. Maybe coincidence, or maybe the Arts Editor is taking an interest in Chinese fiction?
http://www.metro.co.uk/lifestyle/books/ (general link, I can't find the review online)
The Review Beijing-based author Yu Hua offers a humorous, chatty blend of memoir, anecdote and scything social critique in this series of essays – and gives a clearer picture of China today than many scholarly tomes. Each chosen word, he contends (People, Leader and Revolution among them) has changed its meaning over the decades since Mao’s death. His fiction writer’s eye finds great illustrative stories; his keen sense of social consciousness (and strong irony) build up incisive commentary.
What emerges is a portrait of a country that has exchanged one set of madnesses for another as it switched from a command economy to a market economy. Advertising hoardings make the Cultural Revolution’s ‘big character posters’ look tame. The social sanctioning of ‘bamboozling’ leads to fraud being viewed as ‘performance art’. And ‘copycatting’ has reached such extremes that Yu finds ‘copycat’ (ie fake) interviews with him in the newspapers. Yu admires the resourcefulness of his countrymen – but the cruelty in this unbalanced society and the ‘mysterious logic of absurdist fiction’ that has taken hold as the market has become king are startling.
- Siobhan Murphy