The Four Books, by Yan Lianke

Paperback review

The Four Books
The Four Books
Author: Yan Lianke
ISBN-13: 978-701186982
Publisher: Chatto & Windus
Guideline Price: €14.99

A rightly lauded masterpiece – it won the Franz Kafka Prize in 2014 – The Four Books, by Yan Lianke, interrogates power and the amnesia it imposes on the less powerful, focusing on the Great Leap Forward, when Mao Zedong and his higher-ups attempted overnight industrialisation, collapsing agriculture and causing a famine in which 45 million people starved to death – as China continued to export rice. Lianke re-creates a re-education camp where the (nameless) Scholar, Author, Musician and Technician, among many others, attempt to survive prison, famine and the capricious Child, the boy/man with life-and-death power over all. We dream of fraternity in the teeth of fascist madness. In reality – Primo Levi's If This Is a Man comes to mind – it's the opposite; in extremis dog (or man) eats dog. Lianke is famous for Serve the People!, Lenin's Kisses and Dream of Ding Village, sailing close to the wind each time. Sadly, The Four Books has been banned outright in his home country. An extraordinary book.