Monday, 21 April 2014

The Fat Years by Chan Koonchung (3/5)

First published: 2009
Original title: Shengshi: Zhongguo 2013
Original language: Chinese
Translation to English by: Michael S. Duke, 2011

Page count: 307


The back says: Beijing, sometime in the near future: a month has gone missing from official records. No one has any memory of it, and no one can care less. Except for a small circle of friends, who will stop at nothing to get to the bottom of the sinister cheerfulness and amnesia that has possessed the Chinese nation. When they kidnap a high-ranking official and force him to reveal all, what they learn - not only about their leaders, but also about their own people - stuns them to the core. It is a message that will rock the world…

I say: What an utter and total disappointment this was.

I can’t even know where to begin to explain it all so I’ll make this review brief.

Everything starts out interesting enough; we are introduced to a series of characters whose lives intertwine in a nice and imaginative way. The synopsis sums up the plot well enough – except for the fact that the kidnapping doesn’t happen until the last third of the book, at which point I was growing weary and impatient. I should have held on to those emotions because when the big reveal happens I genuinely wanted to throw the book across the room. But it was in the middle of the night, so that wasn’t an option. Instead I sighed and braved on till the end.

I feel the need to point out that before we even get to the big reveal, the kidnapped official spends about 30 pages talking politics and economics.

Thirty.

Pages.

Now, I know very little about Chinese history, politics or economics, so I cannot comment on the accuracy of what is being revealed. Most of it went over my head because I simply couldn’t be arsed muster up enough energy to care.

This is not what I signed up for.

Had I known how dependent this novel is of the above mentioned, I never would have read it.

Having said all that, it’s written in a straightforward way, with a little bit of meta in the third part in the form of the author (or somebody) commenting on the characters. It felt out of place and contrived, but by then I had already checked out of the novel and was waiting for the conclusion. To be noted is that it does contain a lot of literary references, especially Chinese, that I hope are genuine and that I will look up at a later date.

3/5 because the story would have gotten a 4 and the politics and economics a 2, so we’ll settle in the middle.

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