The opening paragraph begins with the end: “Baldy Li, our Liu Town’s premier tycoon,” sits contemplating his life on his “gold-plated toilet seat” and realizes he has little left of value in spite of his massive wealth. Covering four decades and almost 700 pages, Yu Hua gloriously captures a family saga woven through what will certainly be considered one of the most tumultuous periods of modern history – China’s transformation from the deprivation of the Cultural Revolution into an unparalleled 21st-century capitalist powerhouse.
Baldy Li and Song Gang become brothers as young boys when their respective widowed parents marry. Baldy Li, one year younger, is brash, selfish, and virtually fearless; Song Gang is gentle, caring, and painfully thoughtful. Opposites here attract, and their bond is immediate, cemented by brutal events, bearing witness to their parents’ suffering. As they mature, Baldy Li’s obsession with the town’s beauty, Lin Hong, will eventually estrange the two brothers, but their mother’s dying words will never separate their fates.
Brothers is tortuous, comical, condemning, celebratory, horrific, wrenching, and so much more. The tiniest moments of humanity are intensely disturbing next to gestures of senseless cruelty. The head-shaking disbelief alone will keep you reading, from Baldy Li’s preadolescent sexual discovery, to his wedding gift vasectomy, to fortunes literally built on garbage, to traveling salesmen peddling hymens, to a virgin beauty contest without a virgin in sight, to cosmetic surgeries of the jaw-dropping variety.
“OMG” can’t begin to describe Yu Hua’s gritty, unapologetic, ‘bull-in-a-china-shop’ epic.
Published: 2009 (United States)