Summary and book reviews of Brothers by Yu Hua

Brothers

A Novel

by Yu Hua

Brothers
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jan 2009, 656 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2010, 656 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Book Summary

A bestseller in China, recently short-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize, and a winner of France’s Prix Courrier International, Brothers is an epic and wildly unhinged black comedy of modern Chinese society running amok.

A bestseller in China, short-listed for the 2009 Man Asian Literary Prize and a winner of France's Prix Courrier International, Brothers is an epic and wildly unhinged black comedy of modern Chinese society running amok.

Here is China as we’ve never seen it, in a sweeping, Rabelaisian panorama of forty years of rough-and-rumble Chinese history that has already scandalized millions of readers in the author’s homeland. Yu Hua, award-winning author of To Live, gives us a surreal tale of two brothers riding the dizzying roller coaster of life in a newly capitalist world. As comically mismatched teenagers, Baldy Li, a sex-obsessed ne’er-do-well, and Song Gang, his bookish, sensitive stepbrother, vow that they will always be brothers--a bond they will struggle to maintain over the years as they weather the ups and downs of rivalry in love and making and losing millions in the new China. Their tribulations play out across a richly populated backdrop that is every bit as vibrant: the rapidly-changing village of Liu Town, full of such lively characters as the self-important Poet Zhao, the craven dentist Yanker Yu, the virginal town beauty (turned madam) Lin Hong, and the simpering vendor Popsicle Wang.

With sly and biting humor, combined with an insightful and compassionate eye for the lives of ordinary people, Yu Hua shows how the madness of the Cultural Revolution has transformed into the equally rabid madness of extreme materialism. Both tragic and absurd by turns, Brothers is a monumental spectacle and a fascinating vision of an extraordinary place and time.

CHAPTER 1

Baldy Li, our Liu Town’s premier tycoon, had a fantastic plan of spending twenty million U.S. dollars to purchase a ride on a Russian Federation space shuttle for a tour of outer space. Perched atop his famously gold-plated toilet seat, he would close his eyes and imagine himself already floating in orbit, surrounded by the unfathomably frigid depths of space. He would look down at the glorious planet stretched out beneath him, only to choke up on realizing that he had no family left down on Earth.

Baldy Li used to have a brother named Song Gang, who was a year older and a whole head taller and with whom he shared everything. Loyal, stubborn Song Gang had died three years earlier, reduced to a pile of ashes. When Baldy Li remembered the small wooden urn containing his brother’s remains, he had a million mixed emotions. The ashes from even a sapling, he thought, would outweigh those from Song Gang’s bones.

Back when Baldy Li’s mother was still ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Brothers will not appeal to everyone. The subject matter is unrelentingly coarse; there's not a single human bodily function or body part that doesn't get its fair share of verbiage. (Indeed, the second page of the book relates Baldi Li getting caught looking at women's buttocks at the public latrine, and how his father died when he fell into the cesspit below the toilets while attempting the same action – and that's not nearly as tasteless as some of the other occurrences the author relates in the novel's second half.) The text is liberally sprinkled with obscenities. It is also frequently quite violent. Readers who are not sensitive to such vulgarities, however, will find a rich exploration of current Chinese culture and insight into the factors that influenced the country's evolution to its present state.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Full Review Members Only (698 words).

Media Reviews

Los Angeles Times - Ben Ehrenreich

Despite a few slow stretches, Brothers is a consistently and terrifically funny read. What may have irked Yu's Chinese critics more than the fart jokes or any formal heavy-handedness is the unremitting critique of contemporary Chinese life. For all its populism, Brothers is no light entertainment but a caustic and painful satire from which almost nothing emerges unscathed.


Adventuresome readers not looking for a nice and tidy read will certainly find that this work contains more than enough fodder for lively book group discussions.

Booklist

At once gruesome and erotic, uproarious and shrewd, this three-ring circus of a novel, this tragicomic tale of opportunism and compassion, love and terror, boldly embodies the striving of China and the aberrant frenzy of the global marketplace.

Kirkus Reviews

The novel is cheerfully vulgar and obscene, insistently declarative and overemphatic. But it's gripping throughout 600-plus pages, and it rises to a tremendous climax...a deeply flawed great novel, akin to the best work of Zola, Louis-Ferdinand Celine and, arguably, Rabelais.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. By the last page, the novel has imparted a whole world of histories and personalities that are difficult to forget.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The Great Leap Forward
China's Cultural Revolution, which Chairman Mao Zedong formally announced in 1966, was a reaction to his earlier attempt, known as "The Great Leap Forward", to increase China's economic base by moving the country away from its agrarian economy to an industrialized one using the massive supplies of cheap humans rather than expensive imported machines.  The Second Five Year Plan, better known as "The Great Leap Forward", was unveiled by Mao in 1958.  As a first step, collectives across the countryside were merged into even larger "people's communes" so that by the end of 1958 approximately 25,000 communes with an average of 5,000 households had been set up. 

A cornerstone of "The ...

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