The Fat YearsThe Fat Years by Koonchung Chan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

this book should come with a warning label.

it’s supposed to be a novel, fer chrissakes. not a synopsis of china’s political and economic history. if they’d sold is as the latter, i’d give it five stars. but as a novel, it blows.

i bought the audiobook rather than the print version. the narrator does quite a nice job. i listened to it while teaching myself to knit, fortunately. at least something useful came out of the time.

the story’s split into two sections–the “story” part, and the epilogue. if you can grit your teeth through all the long political diatribes in the first part, you are rewarded in the epilogue (which is nearly as long as the story part, in terms of audiobook time). i’m certain that the author wrote the first part as a bit of pandering to popular taste–making a (not very convincing) love story in order to drag the reader through the contemporary politics lesson. but it’s not a patch on the dullness of the epilogue.

when the epilogue started, i was already quite exhausted from shrieking “get on with it!” to my poor iPod. but the epilogue is a whole new kettle of fish: a long, long, long, long, long monologue by a communist party hack.

it became an endurance test for me. i don’t like not finishing books, and since i had at least nine more feet of Dr. Who scarf to knit, i had plenty to keep me distracted. mr. hack began with a five-part lesson in political history, and then moved on to the more thrilling subject of economics, finally ending with a short course in methods of social control. at 3am, i finally crawled across the finish line.

i felt like i’d been held in a chinese political prison, forced to endure re-education.

let it be said that for those who know zip about china’s recent history, it can be pretty enlightening. i’ve no doubt that the very knowledge gap a chinese citizen is likely to have about her own country is the problem the writer was addressing. but if you do know something about contemporary china, it is a painful grind.

however, the entire epilogue was just cruel.

if you’d like to read an actual novel about contemporary china, read Mo Yan. now that man knows how to tell a story, and i do hope in future that mr. chan will undertake some study of the novel form rather than merely lecturing his readers.

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