The Explosion Chronicles

Grove. Oct. 2016. 480p. tr. from Chinese by Carlos Rojas. ISBN 9780802125828. $26. F
OrangeReviewStarYan's latest translated-into-English title offers multiple rewarding options. As straightforward narrative, it follows the astounding transformation of Explosion, a rural mountain village, into a "megalopolis" through the entangled lives of the Kong family's four sons—a teacher, a politician, a soldier, and a caretaker. Add corruption, betrayal, power, obsession, and (of course) women, and the result is already an epic page-turner. Yet, as translator Rojas (kudos for his fluid rendering) illuminates in his context-revealing opening note, this is a multilayered marvel. Modeled after two traditional "historiographic genres"—dynastic histories and "local gazetteers" used to record Chinese history—the narrative features a fictional version of the author as both witness and transcriber, who unapologetically admits he's taken the assignment for "enormous financial compensation." Combining unflinching observation, stinging satire, and what (real-life) Yan calls "mythorealism" (using nonrealism to explain China's reality-defying reality), what happens to Explosion becomes a chilling metanarrative for China's explosive metamorphosis.
VERDICT Despite his novel's heft at nearly 500 pages, Yan's mesmerizing ability to pull readers into this raw, subversive, not completely fictional world will continue to build his international audiences. Mo Yan was the first Chinese national to be awarded the Nobel for Literature; Yan just might be the next.
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