Brothers Review

By Lucas Klein, published

My review of Eileen Chow & Carlos Rojas's translation of Brothers 兄弟 by Yú Huá 余華 is out, printed in this summer's edition of Rain Taxi.

Since it's only available in print, you'll have to order a copy from the website or else pick up an issue--for free--where available. They're often on offer at independent bookstores in North America.


# 1.   

Pity none of us will see it. What's the monthly circulation of Rain Taxi, anyway?

(Q: If a tree falls in the forest, and there's no one there to hear it...?)

(A: Maybe the review never happened).

Perhaps you could post a few blurbs, here or on your own blog, or in some sort of creative-commons environment.

The sound of one hand clapping, -C

Cindy M. Carter, June 22, 2009, 9:42p.m.

# 2.   

I'll read it. Does it circulate as far as Boston? I actually looked for it in Borders (they have a pretty good selection of lit mags) and didn't see it on the shelf. I'll try Grolier at Harvard this week.

Canaan Morse, June 23, 2009, 2:05p.m.

# 3.   

Just read a draft copy of Lucas' review, and thought it the most comprehensive and sensible review of Brothers so far. It offers a fairly detailed overview of the plot (perhaps a little too detailed if you're allergic to spoilers, but I'm not), an assessment of the translation (Klein grades it a "high pass"), and some background to help readers contextualize the novel.

In the context of western and Chinese literary tradition:

"But while such a description suggests that Brothers fulfills the promise of Euro-American modernist and postmodernist fiction, Yu Hua's real ancestry is the long tale of pre-modern China."

In the context of Yu Hua's other work:

"In the '80s Yu Hua was known for the brutality of his short stories, but turning to full-length novels in the '90s his fiction began to depict characters defined more by their earnestness in the face of historical tragedy. To that extent, Brothers may represent a return."

In the context of contemporary Chinese society:

"But the mixture of pleasure and pain and lopsided power amidst economic development does not only play out in the bedroom, it affects the whole household as well. China likewise has a long tradition of attentiveness to the family, but in showcasing the destruction of the family—how brothers can no longer be brothers—Yu Hua hits at the rot upon which China's last half-century has been built."

Cindy M. Carter, June 26, 2009, 10:45p.m.

# 4.   

Hey Lucas, any chance we could get that posted here in the future? A certain time after it's published, say?

Eric Abrahamsen, June 26, 2009, 11:37p.m.

# 5.   

I think that should be possible. I'll ask the editor at Rain Taxi to be sure.


Lucas , June 27, 2009, 3:25p.m.

# 6.   

Two things:

In his review, Klein speculates that Brothers may represent a return to the brutality of Yu Hua's earlier short fiction. I don't know enough about Yu Hua's early work to say, but I wonder how Yu Hua's various translators - Michael Berry (To Live), Andrew F. Jones (Chronicle of a Blood Merchant) and Allan H. Barr (Cries in the Drizzle) - view Brothers, in light of the books they have translated.

Also, I've been re-reading English language reviews of Brothers and thought it might be interesting to post some blurbs. Most of the reviewers seem impressed by scope of the novel, although their assessments of its significance and literary antecedents vary.

February 19, 2009 Washington Post review by Bei Ling (Independent Chinese PEN Center):

"The story is a fable writ large about how the manic materialism of today's China sprang from the insanely politicized culture of Mao's era. The Cultural Revolution was thoroughly insinuated into the bloodstream of the Chinese people, at least for the two generations covered in the novel, and Yu Hua suggests that its hereditary effects will persist for decades no matter what economic reforms come to the country."

February 1, 2009 Los Angeles Times review by Ben Ehrenreich (author):

"Brothers is unapologetically crude and not just in its humor, which rarely veers far from the outhouse or the bedroom. In broad outline, the novel's plot -- two orphaned brothers, sworn to protect each other, are divided by history and their love for the beautiful Lin Hong -- is simplistic and soap-operatic.[...] I'm not complaining. Despite a few slow stretches, Brothers is a consistently and terrifically funny read..."

"Beneath the slapstick, Brothers is about two very different worlds, both in China, that improbably enough succeeded one another during the same long century. [...] Late 20th century capitalism, in Yu's description, is more corrupt and just as grotesque in its excesses as the Maoist austerity it replaces."

February 9, 2009 review by Maureen Corrigan (NPR):

"Read Brothers, Yu Hua's sensational, sweeping and satirical 600-plus-page novel about life in a Chinese village from the early days of the Cultural Revolution to the giddy capitalist present, and you'll realize what's missing from a lot of other contemporary social novels, and in particular, Tom Wolfe's opus The Bonfire of The Vanities."

February 2, 2009 "Briefly Noted" review in The New Yorker:

"A characterization of Baldy’s notoriety can also be applied to this relentlessly entertaining epic: 'Though his reputation reeked, it reeked like an expensive dish of stinky tofu—which is to say, it might stink to high heaven, but damn, it sure tasted good.' "

Cindy M. Carter, June 28, 2009, 12:15a.m.

# 7.   

As a matter of fact...

Thanks to Powell's & their Review-a-Day feature of selected Rain Taxi reviews, my take on Brothers is available online.



Lucas , July 4, 2009, 2:29a.m.


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