To Live

To Live

4.6 9
by Yu Hua

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An award-winning, internationally acclaimed Chinese bestseller, originally banned in China but recently named one of the last decade’s ten most influential books there, To Live tells the epic story of one man’s transformation from the spoiled son of a rich landlord to an honorable and kindhearted peasant.

After squandering his


An award-winning, internationally acclaimed Chinese bestseller, originally banned in China but recently named one of the last decade’s ten most influential books there, To Live tells the epic story of one man’s transformation from the spoiled son of a rich landlord to an honorable and kindhearted peasant.

After squandering his family’s fortune in gambling dens and brothels, the young, deeply penitent Fugui settles down to do the honest work of a farmer. Forced by the Nationalist Army to leave behind his family, he witnesses the horrors and privations of the Civil War, only to return years later to face a string of hardships brought on by the ravages of the Cultural Revolution. Left with an ox as the companion of his final years, Fugui stands as a model of flinty authenticity, buoyed by his appreciation for life in this narrative of humbling power.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A work of astounding emotional power.” —Dai Sijie, author of Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

“Yu Hua is the most profound voice coming out of China today. To Live reaches not only into the very essence of China and the Chinese people but into the blood and bones core of what it means to be a human being.” —Lisa See, author of On Gold Mountain

“A Chinese Book of Job, To Live is a heart-wrenching saga, written with beauty, defiance, and hope. Yu Hua’s books deserve a place on the highest shelf.” —Wang Ping, author of Aching for Beauty and Foreign Devil

“A major contemporary novelist, Yu Hua writes with a cold eye but a warm heart. His novels are ingeniously structured and exude a mythical aura. Though unmistakably Chinese, they are universally resonant.” —Ha Jin, author of Waiting

“A book of subtle power and poignant drama. You love Yu Hua’s characters because they are flawed, vibrant, soulful, and real: you celebrate with them the small wonders of life, and feel their pain as they overcome tragedy. Ultimately, To Live is a redemptive story of the human spirit, one that is universal in its emotional depth.” –Terrence Cheng, author of Sons of Heaven

The Washington Post
The epic -- and at times crude -- stories of struggle and survival in To Live and Chronicle of a Blood Merchant offer unforgettable images of cruelty and kindness, as Yu Hua's characters are torn between their animal instincts and their humanity. What Yu Hua brings to these narratives is a steely willingness to take things too far. Both novels are pumped full of melodrama and outrage, real tears cut with flashes of violence and sarcasm. — Michael Laris
Using the device of an unnamed boy narrator sent to collect folksongs from the Chinese countryside, this novel actually tells the heartrending story of a privileged son, Fugui, who gambles away his family's fortune and proceeds to live a Jonah-like life in mid-20th-century China. He and his family survive civil war, famine, and the Cultural Revolution and, throughout it all, Fugui maintains a love of life that is uplifting without ever becoming saccharine or unbelievable. To Live is an epic tale of a life lived in alternating spurts of happiness and despair and the indefatigable life force that drives the protagonist. This work manages to convey strong emotions using deceptively simple language and readers should be warned that the spirit of this book lingers long after finishing the last page. To Live offers a rich cultural perspective about rural China that would be beneficial to understanding the social history of the 20th century for this region. An informative afterword tells the story of author Yu Hua, who began writing in the wake of the Cultural Revolution. To Live is the first of a projected trilogy written in 1992; it was made into a film in 1994. The film received much critical acclaim but also a lot of unwanted attention from the Chinese government, which banned the work. KLIATT Codes: SA-Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1993, Random House, Anchor, 250p., Ages 15 to adult.
— Courtney Lewis
Library Journal
Written a decade ago and originally banned in China, this deeply moving novel was made into an acclaimed film in 1994 and has since been noted as one of the most influential books to come out of China in the last decade. Set around the time of the Cultural Revolution, the novel opens with narrator Fugui describing his carefree life as a young married man, father, and womanizer. His luck quickly changes after he is left penniless by gambling. What follows is tragedy of epic proportions as Fugui endures the successive deaths of his father, mother, 13-year-old son, deaf-mute daughter, wife, son-in-law, and seven-year-old grandson. Though the work can seem grim, it is told so matter-of-factly that readers easily recognize Fugui's status as a true survivor. Like fellow Chinese writer Ha Jin, Yu details the grittiness of life under communism but places a greater emphasis upon the frailty of the human condition than upon the politics behind the given scenarios. This engaging story is one that readers won't soon forget. Highly recommended for most fiction collections.-Shirley N. Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A Chinese Everyman's progress from self-indulgent irresponsibility to resignation and the beginning of wisdom is briskly in a 1993 novel known in other parts of the world as the source of the highly successful film. Yu Hua's elderly narrator Xu Fugui relates to a passing "city boy" the story of how he gambled away his family's fortune, endured the post-WWII years (as both military prisoner and soldier), struggled through the early period of Mao's Cultural Revolution and the economic debacle of the Chairman's 1958 "Great Leap Forward"-and lived to bury all those he had grown to love and work alongside, and transfer his affection to the aging ox with which he ploughs his shrunken patch of land. It's a strong conception, but Berry's translation is marred by infelicitous phrasing (perhaps the author's), shapeless sentences, vacuous rhetorical questions (e.g., "Who could have known that . . ." and variations thereof recur) and fragments of American-inflected slang (e.g., "No way"). Yu Hua is an internationally celebrated author, but this English version of his work doesn't tell us why. Agent: Joanne Wang

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.53(d)

Meet the Author

Yu Hua was born in 1960 in Zhejiang, China. He finished high school during the Cultural Revolution and worked as a dentist for five years before beginning to write in 1983. He has published three novels, six collections of stories, and three collections of essays. His work has been translated into French, German, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Japanese, and Korean. In 2002 Yu Hua became the first Chinese writer to win the prestigious James Joyce Foundation Award. To Live was awarded Italy’s Premio Grinzane Cavour in 1998 and was named one of the last decade’s ten most influential books in China. Yu Hua lives in Beijing.

Michael Berry is an assistant professor of contemporary Chinese cultural studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of a forthcoming collection of interviews with Chinese filmmakers and the translator of Ye Zhaoyan’s Nanjing 1937: A Love Story and Chang Ta-chun’s Wild Kids: Two Novels About Growing Up.

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To Live 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
FreddyD More than 1 year ago
I don't really like that old saying that the book is better than the movie (I've seen a lot of movies that were way better than the books), but in this case it's true. The movie was good, but the book is amazing. It doesn't have a plot so much, which usually irritates me, but the way the main guy tells his life's story, it's really impressive. He's just so goofy!
Rondolyn More than 1 year ago
Yu Hua tells us a story about simple people living a simple life under extraordinary circumstances in a turbulent time of 20th Century China. His ability to characterize the struggle of peasants in a time of government upheaval and citizen complacency creates a psychological and philosophical adventure for the reader. Reading this story I was drawn into a family struggling to find love and happiness with little reward beyond the simple act of having lived.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very, very powerful book, and elegantly written as well.
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