Hard Like Water: Book summary and reviews of Hard Like Water by Yan Lianke

Hard Like Water

by Yan Lianke

Hard Like Water by Yan Lianke X
Hard Like Water by Yan Lianke
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  • Published Jun 2021
    384 pages
    Genre: Literary Fiction

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Book Summary

Gao Aijun is a son of the soil of Henan's Balou Mountains, and after a service in the Army, he is on his way back to his ancestral village, feeling like a hero. Close to his arrival, he sees a strikingly attractive woman walking barefoot alongside a railway track in the warm afternoon sun, and he is instantly smitten.

She is Xia Hongmei and lives up to her name of "beautiful flower." Hiding their relationship from their spouses, the pair hurl themselves into the struggle to bring revolution to their backwater village. They spend their days and nights writing pamphlets, organizing work brigades, and attending rallies, feeling they are the vanguard for the full-blown revolution that is waiting in the wings.

Emboldened by encouragement from the Party, the couple dig a literal "tunnel of love" between their homes, where underneath the village their revolutionary and sexual fervor reaches a boiling point. While the unsuspecting villagers sleep, they sing revolutionary songs and compete in shouting-matches of Maoist slogans before making earth-moving love. But when their torrid relationship is finally discovered, and they have to answer to Hongmei's husband, their dreams of a bright future together begin to fray. Will their great revolutionary energy save their skins, or will they too fall victim to the revolution that is swallowing up the country?

A novel of rare emotional force and surprising humor, Hard Like Water is an operatic and brilliantly plotted human drama about power's corrupting nature and the brute force of love and desire.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"[A] gritty, memorable story of love in a time of choler...Yan's study of power and class struggle becomes, in the end, a near-classic tragedy with the subtlest of nods to his version of magical realism. Admirers of Yan's work won't be disappointed with this turn to straightforward narrative." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Yan probes the darkness and absurdity of Chinese society and history with a sexy satirical tale of the Cultural Revolution as wrought in a small village...the play with language makes the satire distinctive and punchy. Yan's exuberant and unflinching tragicomedy is undeniably appealing." - Publishers Weekly

"In China, notes Yan's Anglophone enabler-of-choice Rojas, there exists 'a literary subgenre known as "revolution plus love," which was popular...in the late 1920s and 1930s.' Always rather subversive, Yan transplants this subgenre into the turbulence of the Cultural Revolution to showcase 'the erotics of revolutionary activism' as exemplified by an impossible love story...Yan's signature biting wit creates another indelible work of bittersweet humor and sociopolitical insight." - Booklist

This information about Hard Like Water was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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Author Information

Yan Lianke Author Biography

Yan Lianke was born in 1958 in Henan Province, China. He is the author of numerous story collections and novels, including The Day the Sun Died; The Years, Months, Days; The Explosion Chronicles; The Four Books; Lenin's Kisses; Serve the People!; and Dream of Ding Village. Among many accolades, he was awarded the Franz Kafka Prize, he was twice a finalist for the Man Booker International Prize, and he has been shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, the Man Asian Literary Prize, and the Prix Femina Étranger. He has received two of China's most prestigious literary honors, the Lu Xun Prize and the Lao She Award. He lives and writes in Beijing.

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