Dream of Ding Village

Yan Lianke. Grove. Jan. 2011. c.352p. tr. from Chinese by Cindy Carter. ISBN 9780802119322. $24. F
Censored in China, the latest novel by Yan (Serve the People!) to be translated into English is a brutal morality tale of a country undergoing transition; the citizens are mere "dogs, or chickens, or ants crushed underfoot" in a larger-than-life tragedy. China's plan to fill its blood banks reaches the poorest villages, where "bloodheads" convince desperate citizens to open their veins for quick cash. In the village named for his ancestors, Ding Hui becomes reigning bloodhead; his unsanitary practices eventually infect the villagers with "the fever"—HIV/AIDS. Because Hui is unrepentantly on to the next get-richer scheme, his 12-year-old son is murdered in retaliation; the boy omnisciently narrates from his school-side grave. Hui's brother, Liang, also becomes infected and desperately seeks one last chance at happiness. Hui's father, the de facto village leader—and a prescient dreamer—bears the guilt of Hui's avarice and Liang's disgrace.
VERDICT Written after three years of clandestine research on a real-life blood-selling scandal that was widespread in China, this book shines another grim spotlight on China's abuses. Like his literary contemporaries Mo Yan and Yu Hua, Yan's unflinching irreverence makes this Schadenfreude tragedy essential reading.
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