To Live

To Live
Yu Hua

The troubled history of China in the twentieth century – including a civil war and the Communist Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution – is almost unnoticed in the background of this compressed epic telling the story of the peasant Fugui’s “ordinary life.” In a wonderful set piece recalling Tolstoy and Crane a battle that Fugui survives becomes a masterpiece of minimalism and limited point of view, removing any hint of a big picture. The revolutions that matter are, instead, the traditional round of births, marriages, and deaths, all set against the regular harvesting of crops. The whole thing could have been The Good Earth revisited, and it can’t escape the comparison (at least for those of us who have actually read Pearl Buck), but realism and parable go well together, and Fugui’s grim chronicle has its own rigorous style and economy.