The Four Books, By Yan Lianke
Paperback review: a rightly lauded masterpiece
The Four Books
Chatto & Windus
A rightly lauded masterpiece (it won the Franz Kafka Prize in 2014), The Four Books interrogates power, and the amnesia it (forcefully) imposes on the less powerful, focusing on the Great Leap Forward, when Mao and his “higher-ups” attempted overnight industrialisation, devastating agriculture and causing a famine in which 45 million people were starved to death – as China continued to export rice. Lianke recreates a “re-education” camp, where the (nameless) Scholar, Author, Musician and Technician, among many others, attempt to survive prison and famine, along with the capricious Child, the boy/man with life and death power over all. We dream of fraternité in the teeth of fascist madness but in reality (Primo Levi’s If This is a Man comes to mind) it is 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 China. An extraordinary book.