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Chinese Fiction Leaps over the Great Wall of the Past

Yu Hua has been getting a lot of international press (including the International Herald Tribute) for his new novel Brothers. The novel is published in two volumes.

Born in 1960, he survived the Cultural Revolution. Though his intellectual parents were forced into the countryside and considerably abused as were many of their class during this chaotic time. Yu Hua published his first novel Leaving Home at 18 when he was 27 years old that sold poorly but brought him to the attention of the literary community.

Brothers has sold a million copies and this in a country where piracy of intellectual property appears something akin to a birthright. The story line involves two step brothers who survive the horrors of the Cultural Revolution and go on to become rich in modern China. It also is a social commentary on the deadening effect of a highly materialistic, soulless society, selfish and self-centered. The usual sins run through the story: corruption, prostitution and gambling.

The new novel “shows the worlds of the newly rich, workers, jobless people and cheats, and their changing fates in two completely different eras.”

The reviews in China have raved about Brothers. The Shanghaist wrote:

“There were times when we wondered if some of the scenes of cruelty during the Cultural Revolution described in this book could really have happened. This book is not memoir, nonfiction, or documentary -- the absurdist and almost magical realist quality of certain passages remind you of that -- but even if the torture and callousness described didn't happen in actuality, it still manages to resonate as an emotionally truthful portrait of a catastrophic era in Chinese history.”

Yu Hua’s earlier novel the Chronicle of a Blood Merchant, revolved around the life of factory worker named Xu Sanguan who is forced to sell his blood to bail his family out of financially difficult times.

Some critics have accused Yu Hua for selling out with Brothers, saying: "I'm really disappointed with 'Brothers,'" says Sun Kai, an editor at Oriental Outlook, a popular Chinese magazine. "I really can't understand why such an important and famous writer who wrote masterpieces before can publish such a rough absurd novel, like a tear- jerking soap opera."

What makes Brothers remarkable is that it could be published and sold in China at all. To take on the nightmare of the Cultural Revolution that is widely sold and read in China means that this time is now open for discussion and debate. That can only be healthy.

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