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.
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.
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.
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
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