Path of his own pen

Updated: 2014-03-11 10:09

By Mei Jia (China Daily)

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After the dream, the four brothers from the Kong family set off to change the world in their own ways. A young woman from the rival Zhu family is to marry the second-oldest Kong brother and help him develop the town into a metropolis, though she hates him. Finally the third Kong brother takes all the villagers to sail to the United States in thousands of small boats.

In Yan's novel, a plant can bloom if an administrative paper is put in front of it. A building can be built overnight, by itself, only upon a shout by the powerful Kong brothers.

Path of his own pen"Wow" is the reaction of many when they read the book, including writers Ge Liang and Jiang Fangzhou.

"I think readers need courage to finish this marvelous novel," Ge says.

"It's the truth behind those so-called truths," Jiang says. Yan coins a term "inner truth" in his literary theories he occasionally writes.

British newspaper The Guardian describes Yan Lianke as "one of China's most interesting writers and a master of imaginative satire".

Critic Chen notes that Yan is hugely popular among foreign readers, especially the French.

Chen says Yan's books typically sell tens of thousands of copies in France, adding that the French value "his wild imagination and artistry".

"You may have the impression that his writing is rustic and tough. But Yan is really a highly talented writer whose works deserve multiple of reading," Chen says.

Yan was trained in an army school, and his early writing was mainly about army life.

"Believe it or not, I'm the originator of so-called politically right propaganda literature," he jokes. "I wrote anti-corruption novels in the 1970s."

He then shifted to rural topics. His works are translated in many languages and read widely. He was a finalist for the Man Booker International Prize in 2013.

Yan occasionally finds himself caught up in controversies that have kept some of his books from being published.

"I hold that a writer whose works have never been controversial is not a great writer," he says.

Yan is currently writer-on-campus at Renmin University of China in Beijing and writes in the mornings. He reads a lot of criticism and foreign literature, but avoids biographies.

He talks about Franz Kafka, Albert Camus and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, but says Chinese writers should insist on writing Chinese stories without traces of Western literature.

As he steps out of the cafe, he suddenly bursts into laughter. "This (The Chronicle of Zhalie) might be the wildest of all my novels," he says, in terms of imagination and absurdity.

"But I light a firefly like hope in the text of total darkness."