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on 20 October 2009
This fictional and humorous narrative follows a young boy growing up in China through the Cultural Revolution and then through the economic reforms of the 1980s. The book excels a producing exaggerated and comical portrayals of the suffering of Chinese during the 1960s. Some deaths are truly macabre, as people are beaten to death in the streets, others are humorous: drowning in a trench of feces whilst trying to look at womens' bottoms. this book is written to shock and to make you laugh. Common themes that prevail include the small boy repeatedly being asked to masturbate against electricity pylons by villagers for entertainment. Maybe the humor caters to the lowest denominator, but I laughed a lot.

Although this is a work of fiction, it is based on his own experience growing up in rural Zhejiang. As such, there is plenty to learn about living in a Chinese village on the poverty line.

[I read the Chinese version so can't comment on the translation]
You may also like the Zhang Yimou version of Yu Hua's To Live:
To Live [DVD] [1994] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
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on 15 April 2009
When I read a book like this, which is a translation of a book that was written in a very different language about a very different culture, I do wonder how much of the original story I am actually getting. The feat of translation is awesome and it must have been perhaps even more difficult to translate than was the original story was to write. Obviously I have no way of knowing how faithful the translation is to the original, but can only judge the translated version. What I get is a sort of understanding of what it is to be Chinese. They are, as you would expect, a more simple and less worldly people and problems are solved in more primitive ways that are quite alien to us. Their understanding of the function of government is quite different to our own. The story itself is gripping and although the book is very long, I got through it in a week, even though I am not normally a keen reader.
I hate it when reviewers spoil the story for me so I won't do that for you. People who complain about human rights abuse in China would do well to read this book. It does not in anyway excuse such abuse, but it gives a flavour of the context in which it is happening and the meteoric changes that are occurring to a relatively unsophisticated populous.
Perhaps a warning is in order; if you are a bit squeamish this book is extremely violent and heartbreaking in parts and should only be read after the watershed.
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on 24 September 2009
Gem of a book, the class struggle bits were harrowing and left me feeling miserable, and hoping that I will never know such pain for real, but this is juxtaposed later with pure comedy, I even found myself reading bits to my friend as I went along, if you read it look out for the brands (meat bun bra) I was in stitches! I get through a lotta books, so just trust me when I say that since 'Stasiland' this is the best thing.
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on 4 January 2012
Yu Hua is one of my fav writer. I bought this book for my husband who loves Yu Hua's book after I introduced to him. The translator has done a great job, I know it is a very difficult. If, by any chance, you can read Chinese, I would say you'd better read the Chinese version, even better!
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on 6 October 2011
A heartrending book 1 followed by an often hilarious 2nd part. More 4-letter words than in a Gordon Ramsay kitchen, but somehow, it just seems right and funny. A quite crazy insight into Chinese life - hard to believe it is in modern times! Read and enjoy.
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on 15 January 2014
Having recently been in China I was interested to read a book which had been a chinese best seller. I enjoyed the book but there are no great insights into chinese life. It is however a great story that rolls along and carries you along too.
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on 12 March 2016
Bought it for a friend who cannot read the Chinese version.
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on 4 January 2011
For supposedly such a popular book there are very few reviews for this tome. And why is that? Simply because it is not that good and it is way, way too long with a lot of repetitive phraseology. It is funny in places using smut for comedy but then goes on to overegg the pudding. If you took all of the unnecessary stuff out it would probably only be about 200 pages long and then, as a commentary of the changes going on in China over the past 50 years or so it is quite good but there are many more better writers writing about those times.
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