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Guest: The Fat Years

Courtesy of Bibliotechnicienne | Bibliotechnicienne | Originally posted 5.10.2021

In the not so distant future, China has emerged from the 2008 global economic meltdown unscathed and more prosperous than ever. The general populous is euphoric. Constantly. And yet one month is missing from the official record. Twenty-eight days to be exact. Newspapers have been destroyed. The online versions that remain have been altered to reflect that the economic meltdown and China’s so-called Age of Ascendancy happened simultaneously, without protest or disharmony. Few people remember the lost month and dare to question it. Why are there so few people who remember the chaos and protests, the same people who don’t feel the immense and unending happiness of the majority?

I liked this book. However I like the story behind the novel better than the actual book. It’s banned in China. The cover of the book proclaims it as “the book no one in China dares publish.” Who isn’t intrigued by a forbidden book?

Some books are translated into English from their original language and they flow. This is not one of them. I found some passages clunky and/or confusing, and I found myself re-reading many parts of the book for clarity.

One part I re-read because it was heartbreaking. The main character, Lao Chen, is thinking about “90 percent freedom” which he believes he currently enjoys in China. The government is much more relaxed than they were in the past. So what if he can’t get some of the books he wants, that he could before the lost month? As a writer, he feels guilty that he hasn’t read many of the Russian classics. He can still access those. “It’s enough for me to have these classics, I don’t need too much freedom.” Perhaps they’re already at 95 percent freedom. Watching him slowly rationalizes that things are better than they were before, and he doesn’t need “too much freedom” and should be happy with what he has is tough to read. It’s a work of fiction, but it’s not hard to imagine that it’s true. If things are better than they were in the past, why would you want to stir things up by advocating for that final 5 percent of freedom?

While the story, and perhaps the translation could use a bit of polish, it’s a worthwhile read.

Book 19/50 for fiftyfiftyme.

Are you taking part in 50/50me? How are you doing so far? Any book recommendations?

Note: be wary of reading articles about this book before reading it. I found one in the Globe and Mail, and it contained a colossal spoiler. A spoiler from the last pages of the book. I won’t repeat it here (but I’ll email it to you, if you’re one of those people who can’t help but spoil things for yourself. I do that too, but this time the spoiling was inadvertent and unwanted.) So, in the event that other journalists are jerkstores, refrain from reading reviews/articles until after reading the book.


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