Cover image for The years, months, days : two novellas / Yan Lianke ; translated from the Chinese by Carlos Rojas.
The years, months, days : two novellas / Yan Lianke ; translated from the Chinese by Carlos Rojas.
First Grove Atlantic paperback edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Black Cat : distributed by Publishers Group West, 2017.

Physical Description:
x, 192 pages ; 21 cm
General Note:
"The years, months, days first published in China in 1997 as Nian yue ri by Harvest magazine ; Marrow first published in China in 2001 as Balou tiange."
The years, months, days -- Marrow.
Yan Lianke“Chinas most feted and most banned author” (Financial Times) is a master of imaginative satire, and his prize-winning works have been published around the world to the highest honors. Now, his two most acclaimed novellas are collected here in a single volumemasterfully crafted stories that explore the sacrifices made for family, the driving will to survive, and the longing to leave behind a personal legacy.
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1 Bob Harkins Branch YAN Book Adult General Collection

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Yan Lianke--"China's most feted and most banned author" ( Financial Times )--is a master of imaginative satire, and his prize-winning works have been published around the world to the highest honors. Now, his two most acclaimed novellas are collected here in a single volume--masterfully crafted stories that explore the sacrifices made for family, the driving will to survive, and the longing to leave behind a personal legacy.

Marrow is the haunting tale of a widow who goes to extremes to provide a normal life for her four disabled children. When she discovers that bones--especially those of kin--can cure their illnesses and prevent future generations from the same fate, she feeds them a medicinal soup made from the skeleton of her dead husband. But after running out of soup, she resorts to a measure that only a mother can take.

In the luminous, moving title story, The Years, Months, Days --a bestselling, classic fable in China, and winner of the prestigious Lu Xun Literary Prize--an elderly man stays behind in his small village after a terrible drought forces everyone to leave. Unable to make the grueling march through the mountains, he becomes the lone inhabitant, along with a blind dog. As he fends off the natural world from overtaking his hometown, every day is a victory over death.

With touches of the fantastical and with deep humanity, these two magnificent novellas--masterpieces of the short form--reflect the universality of mankind's will to live, live well, and live with purpose.

Author Notes

Yan Lianke was born in 1958 in Song County, Henan Province, China. He studied politics and education and is a 1985 graduate of Henan University. A few years later he received a degree in Literature from the People's Liberation Army Art Institute. His novels include Serve the People!, Lenin's Kisses, Dream of Ding Village, and The Four Books. Yan Lianke won the Hua Zhong World Chinese Literature Prize in 2013. He has also won two of China's most prestigious literary awards: the Lu Xan Literary Prize (in 1998 and 2001) and the Lao She Literary Award in 2005. In 2014, he won the Franz Kafka Prize.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Lianke's talent for the fantastical shines in this collection of two novellas. In the title piece, an elder stays behind after a long drought drives his fellow village residents to more amiable climates; he claims he'd "surely die of exhaustion" if he joined their pilgrimage. With only his blind dog by his side, and battling both the elements and encroaching wild beasts, the elder toils under the hot sun to survive, nursing a lone corn seedling and devising various schemes to stay alive. "Marrow," the second novella, features a devoted mother who will stop at nothing to provide her disabled children with happiness. A widow, she speaks to her husband's ghost as she wheels and deals to land suitors, promising grains and goods to potential mates and leaving herself with little to survive. Though they contain dark subject matter, Lianke's fables of personal sacrifice are also sharply observed and funny. Lianke's narratives feel much larger than their page count suggest, almost epic. Agent: Laura Susjin, the Susjin Agency. (Dec.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

New York Review of Books Review

THE FIRST CHINESE RECIPIENT of the Franz Kafka Prize and a frequent target of government censorship, the novelist Yan Lianke creates imaginary wounds in real blood. Yan was born in Henan province in 1958, and his childhood coincided with the worst years of the Great Leap Forward, when China's rush toward modernity thrust millions into biblical-level famine and privation. (His mother, Yan later recalled, was forced to teach him the most edible forms of bark and clay.) As his translator, Carlos Rojas, explains in his introduction, these experiences profoundly marked Yan's sensibility. Yan has called his style "mythorealism." His books read like the brutal folklore history couldn't bear to remember, and his characters feel stranded, forgotten by time. "The Years, Months, Days," the first of the two novellas collected in this volume, begins with an arresting line: "In the year of the great drought, time was baked to ash." Set after a mass migration, the story has three major characters: a 72-year-old man known as the Elder, a sun-blinded dog and a cornstalk. The minimal staging recalls a Beckett play. Like Beckett's most memorable characters, the Elder is drawn from a long tradition of absurdist sages, barely lucid but often wise. He talks to his dog, weighs sunlight on a scale and waters the cornstalk with his own urine. The Elder's world is nauseatingly vivid, reminiscent of the too-sharp smells and sounds associated with a migraine. When he licks the powder from a flour jug, "the pure white taste of wheat" blossoms in his mouth. When the sun is at its height, he hears his hair burning. Desolation has rarely seemed so sensual, so insistently alive. In chronicling with extraordinary sensitivity the suffering of an ordinary man, Yan forces us to pay attention. The second novella, "Marrow," revolves around the efforts of Fourth Wife You, the widowed parent of four epileptic and mentally compromised children, to marry off her third daughter to a healthy man - what they enviously call "a wholer." Her children are what used to be called village idiots. (And the village is, in fact, named after them: Four Idiots Village.) Their lives seem hopeless until a ghost reveals that they can be cured by drinking soup made from a dead relative's bones. There is a rich tradition in China, going back to the advent of written narrative and predating fiction, called zhiguai: accounts of the inexplicable and occult, often featuring ghosts. "Marrow" is a saucy sendup of that genre. Fourth Wife You argues with her husband's ghost, exposes herself in exchange for help cultivating her field and tries to keep her son from sleeping with his sister. Everyone is out for himself. "Good soil in this tomb," Fourth Wife You remarks, disinterring her husband. Yan's world is earthy, male and often very juvenile: snot, urine, phlegm and voluminous breasts almost qualify as secondary characters. It's also funny, although Rojas's otherwise smooth translation mishandles Yan's curses. ("That ass caressed her breasts!" conjures a mental image more surreal than even Yan would intend.) Yan's vulgarity is the flip side of his sensuality, and recalls Upton Sinclair's line about aiming for his readers' hearts and hitting them in the stomach. In Yan's case, the effect is deliberate. His tools as a social critic are shame and disgust. "Marrow" is a mordant look at a depraved society, more exemplary of Yan's other work - he has handily drawn comparisons to Kafka and the foundational Chinese satirist Lu Xun - than its companion novella. (Readers looking for his Kafkaesque side should turn to Yan's "The Four Books," his knife-sharp indictment of Communist mismanagement.) Unlike Lu Xun, whose work pointed to structural shortcomings in Chinese society, Yan doesn't suggest any solutions in his disillusioned fables. The problem, he implies, is human nature. We are all degraded and degrading. There's no help for that. JAMIE FISHER is a freelance writer and ChineseEnglish translator. She has recently completed her first novel. Yan Liankes books read like the brutal folklore history couldn't bear to remember.

Library Journal Review

Set in the fictional Balou Mountains in Yan's home province of Henan (also the setting for Lenin's Kisses), these two compelling novellas both exalt emotional bonds and warn against their fatal consequences. To escape endless drought, an entire village flees in search of sustenance in "Years, Months, Days." A left-behind 72-year-old man and his blind dog work obsessively to ensure the harvest of the sole remaining corn stalk, sustained by their tenacious devotion for each other. In "Marrow," a widowed mother has made their village "infamous" with her epileptic offspring: You Village is better known as Four Idiots Village. She managed to marry her two older daughters to "a cripple [and] a one-eyed freak," respectively, but her third daughter demands a "wholer" husband. The mother's search grows frantic as her youngest continuously makes sexual advances toward his sister. She'll stop at nothing-deception, grave robbing, death-to get her children properly coupled. Dexterously rendered by Duke professor Rojas (Yan's anointed translator), this work again directs the author's unflinching gaze on life's impossible absurdities, exposing a surreal mixture of brutality, openness, even sly humor. VERDICT Libraries with internationally minded readers will want to provide Yan's provocative latest-in-English title to his substantial audiences. [See Prepub Alert, 6/26/17.]-Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



From Marrow Fourth Wife You said, "We are trying to cure his daughter's illness. There's nothing to explain." With this, she entered the tomb, squatted down in front of the coffin and pushed aside a couple of maggots that had fallen onto the leg bones. She looked everything over and saw that, apart from some white moss, the walls of the tomb were completely intact. "Good soil in this tomb," she remarked. Then she turned and asked, "Did you bring a sack?" Second Son-in-Law took a white cloth out of his pocket and laid it out in the lighted area at the entrance to the tomb. Fourth Wife You asked, "Which bone do you want?" Second Son-in-Law said, "Whenever Second Daughter has an episode, her hand begins to tremble, so let's take a bone from his hand." Fourth Wife You took two bones from her husband's hand and placed them on the cloth, then asked, "What else?" Second Son-in-Law said, "Whenever she has an episode she loses the ability to walk." Fourth Wife You took one of her husband's leg bones and placed it on the cloth, then asked, "What else?" Second Son-in-Law said, "Anything is fine. Just take a few more." Fourth Wife You said, "Mental illness is the result of something wrong in the brain, and if the brain can be fixed the illness will be cured. So, we should definitely use the skull." As she was saying this, she took the skull and held it in both hands as though it were a bowl, then gently placed it on the cloth. Excerpted from The Years, Months, Days by Yan Lianke All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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