- 266 pages - € 14,00
- Dream of Ding village
- Corsair, 2012
- 352 pages, €. £7.99
Yan Lianke, thanks for the grief
Dream of Ding Village is the winner of the 2014 Franz Kafka’s Award. It is an overwhelming nightmare that possesses the beauty and rhythm of autumn.
It is a very lyrical book, not slow paced but that relentlessly leads to a white winter, the color of mourning in China. In its first pages the narrator tells us that Ding village will disappear from the face of the Earth. Neighbors will firstly crush like leaves, then turn yellow and finally fall from the trees in a rattle whisper. Eventually a gust of wind will blow the leaves as well as the village away, towards nowhere.
The book tells the story of the Ding villagers’ fate after most of them took part in blood trading, an activity in which many other villages of the home province of Yan Lianke were taking part once China had legalized this business and encouraged it through local authorities in the early 1990s. It was a business conducted unscrupulously which spread AIDS like torrential rain on dry ground. Sick people who had barely thrived for a short period of time, were abandoned, marginalized in their own villages, waiting for death, living each day as a day lost.
It is a very painful novel and even more so because it shows a despicable humanity which includes both those who have been enriched at the expense of others and the sick people. In his Kafka Award’s speech, Yan Lianke said ‘I see corruption, nonsense, discomfort and chaos, respect for humanity is disintegrating’. In the epilogue of the book he talks about this novel as a “bundle of pain and disappointment ” and apologizes for causing so much grief in this joyful world.
However, he seeks no sensationalism, but depicts a hell that seems natural, where one can take a stroll without stopping. In China rhythm is very important in writing, it draws from Chinese classics which are poetic works. Besides this lyricism, Lianke has chosen a dead child as the narrator, which gives the book a hint of sweetness without falling into the unreal or the realm of fantasy. This voice makes the text particularly easy to read and transcending at times by taking epic connotations. At the same time, Dream of Ding Village is a dangerous book for the Chinese censorship as it represents a bridge to other cultures because of its universality.
On one hand, the book reminds me of Latin American magical realism, that of Juan Rulfo and his Pedro Paramo for the dreamlike weight of this novel, and on the other, of Yashar Kemal and his Teneke for its sociopolitical depth, although Yan acknowledges that among Western writers Kafka would be one that influenced him the most. Moreover, one can identify solid Taoist and Confucianist elements, whereby nature weaves the history of the village and its hierarchies, and ceremonies have to be respected. Also father and son face each other as antagonists representing tradition against communism.
However, this is not just a sociopolitical novel: The Dream of Ding Village encompasses a heartbreaking story of a very complex and strange love, a love so beautiful that produces stillness.