‘The Years, Months, Days’ – Two Unusual and Amusing Novellas by Yan Lianke


‘The Years, Months, Days’ – Two Novellas by Yan Lianke  (1997, 2001) – 192 pages        Translated from the Chinese by Carlos Rojas

Here are two novellas by Yan Lianke, “China’s most feted and banned author” (Financial Times).  Yan Lianke is also rapidly becoming one of my own favorite authors.  Lianke tells some of the most honest tragic strange stories of all, yet lightens things up with irony and sarcasm and ridicule making his stories a pleasure to read.  His ‘’The Four Books’ is a powerful novel about China’s disastrous Great Leap Forward, and with these two novellas he again succeeds.

Both of these novellas use the power of allegory to tell a simple strange story with humor.

In the first novella, ‘The Years, Months, Days’, a major drought has hit this Chinese town, and everyone has left except for one man, the Elder, and his blind dog Blindy. Even the animals had left.  There are no livestock, no sparrows, and even the crows had fled the drought.  The only animals that remain are hundreds of rats, and the Elder and his dog Blindy must do battle against the rats for the few grains of corn that are left as well as for the tiny amount of water still in the city well.

The Elder has one grand objective. He does everything he possibly can to keep his one stalk of corn growing so that he will have some seed corn to give to the villagers when they return.

There is no lack of conversation as the Elder talks to himself as well as to his dog Blindy.

Blindy, the Elder said, What do you think? Are we going to starve to death? 

The blind dog stared into the sky with its eyes that were as dark as the bottom of a well.

The Elder said, “I don’t think this stalk will ever mature.”

It is a simple poignant story of a man and his dog fighting against nature for survival.  What puts this drought disaster story over the top is the humor that Lianke brings to the story.

In the second novella, ‘Marrow’, the mother Fourth Wife You is also on a grand quest to find mates for her four idiot children.   Her husband Stone You kills himself when he finds out that his side of the family’s genetics caused the idiocy of all his kids. However his spirit continues to show up sporadically to give his wife unneeded advice.  She complains,

“Dead one, where are you? When I want you to talk to me, you really are dead; but when I don’t want you to keep talking, you come back to life.” 

So here we have a spooky yet funny dead husband ghost.

The idiocy of the four children takes some bizarre unexpected turns, but the mother is constantly on the lookout for a way out of her dilemma.

Both of these novellas are like folk tales, only stranger and more surprising and more amusing.



Grade:   A  


4 responses to this post.

  1. Aww, Text Publishing always used to send me Yan Lianke’s books, I guess I’ll have to buy this one!

    Liked by 1 person


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