After hearing an excerpt from 'The Fat Years' (《盛世 ： 中國，2013年》) read aloud (in both English and Mandarin) by Chan Koon Chung (陳冠中) last October at the Singapore Writers Festival, I was most interested to read its original version in Chinese. I forgot to look for it at the brick and mortar outfits or online. To my surprise, the girlfriend remembered such a minute detail, and sent me her copy of the book. I was overjoyed with this awesome act of friendship, and bloody impressed by her careful maintenance of this book that arrived in pristine condition. Woah. Thrilled to bits. I thought she's issued me this challenge to read it, and return it to her in the exact condition. (We've got a private fun thingy going on!) But no, she said. She wrote my name in there, and said it's for my bookshelves. Yay!
This book is officially banned in China, even though its author still lives in Beijing. I wonder how long he's going to be able to remain there safely. Think Ai Weiwei. I made it a point to finish this book before I fly into China, again. I would have to be either very brave or foolhardy to take this book with me, even on a Kindle. I'm not believing the friends living in China who tell me that this book in English and reprints in Chinese, is currently a coveted door gift given out at chi-chi dos and underground parties. :P (Reviews on The Globe and The Mail, The Guardian, The Independent and The Los Angeles Times.)
Note that the book has been written way earlier, first published in 2009 and set its story in the year 2013. Well, it moves around a protagonist and 3 central characters, with a couple of peripherals who are important to the book, with the last one being sneaked in and forgotten until the very end where his almost soliloquy on the political developments in China summarizes the central themes of the book. The built-up is lengthy, with extreme care paid to character development of many. The point of the book, or rather, the revelation of its plot lies in the last 2 chapters.
It isn't just about the 'lost 28 days' that some people remember and some forget, suggesting a government conspiracy in a mass memory loss caused via drugs in the piped water to the residents of mainly Beijing. (Ah! I can hear you snigger, Singaporeans.) This book is, of course, the writer's commentary on his view of China's indisputable economic rise and wealth; how China treats its people and intellectuals, a not-totally-veiled criticism of 1989 June Fourth (八九六四) crackdown on protestors demanding for freedom of press and political reform, among the usual opinions on China's justice system, death penalty, corruption, nepotism, growth of Christianity, ethnic suppression, web of deceit, etc. It's intriguing. I'm not so quick to criticize China. I'm no academic, critic or whatever. I'm a simple human, a tourist, and an outsider. I prefer to judge the country, its society and people based on my personal experiences. I like a well-written discourse (fiction or otherwise) about China which will allow me plenty of space to agree or disagree with its proposed statements.
Sorry if you don't understand the quote below! Google Translate might be able to help... Which is also why after closing the last page of the book, I've decided to skip reading the English translation, even if Michael Duke does an excellent job. Simply from reading excerpts in English, I realize that nuances are already lost within the translation. Since I can read Chinese, I'll do this version. I toyed with the idea of writing this review in Chinese. But I guess the point is to share with the other friends who aren't going to be pleased about having to decipher what the heck I'm talking about, and to perhaps convince them and the non-Chinese-reading friends to read the English translation of it, and eventually, enjoy the richness that this vast country has to offer.