Hard Like Water

Grove. Jun. 2021. 384p. tr. from Chinese by Carlos Rojas. ISBN 9780802158123. $27. F
Two decades after its original publication in China and a dozen years after its publication in Taiwan, this novel by acclaimed author Yan (The Day the Sun Died) has now been translated into English. Set during China’s Cultural Revolution, the story follows Gao Aijun, an ambitious member of the Communist Party who has hopes of rising in the ranks and gaining prestige. He marries Guizhi (the daughter of New China’s 1st Party Secretary), whom he is not otherwise attracted to, and dutifully fathers a son with her. But he soon finds himself drawn to the more like-minded Hongmei, his married female counterrevolutionary counterpart, who herself has a daughter. Aijun and Hongmei eventually begin a heated, risky love affair, even going so far as to dig a tunnel beneath and between their homes to create an underground nuptial chamber. Filled with snippets of political propaganda, Yan’s book displays the degree of risk one may be willing to undertake, and the hardships one may endure, when striving to overcome oppression with hopes of personal gain. It’s a story of lust and greed, with a degree of tediousness in the repetition and number of passages about Aijun and Hongmei’s desire for each other, as well as all the political references. The plot is far-fetched at times; at others, it’s horrifyingly realistic with violence.
VERDICT Though not for general readers, this is a must-read for those familiar with Yan’s writing. His liberal use of double entendre may also appeal to readers interested in historical fiction about this period of China’s history.
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