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The Four Books

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  743 ratings  ·  112 reviews
From master storyteller Yan Lianke, winner of the prestigious Franz Kafka Prize and a finalist for the Man Booker International Prize, The Four Books is a powerful, daring novel of the dog-eat-dog psychology inside a labor camp for intellectuals during Mao’s Great Leap Forward. A renowned author in China, and among its most censored, Yan’s mythical, sometimes surreal tale ...more
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published February 24th 2015 by Grove Press (first published January 1st 2013)
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Julia Colbourn That's the unfinished one, about Sisyphus, isn't it? I thought it summarised the pointless toil the re-eds were made to do, how, as soon as they…moreThat's the unfinished one, about Sisyphus, isn't it? I thought it summarised the pointless toil the re-eds were made to do, how, as soon as they thought they were achieving, the goal posts changed.(less)

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3.93  · 
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According to Yan, Maoist China was an absurdist paradise. Based on the many other accounts of the period, there is no reason to doubt him. However, if China has been such a place, I find it difficult to accept that this was a passing cultural phase. There seems to be something anti-rational not just irrational in the collective psyche. Else why would it be necessary for someone like Yan to publicise the common practices that were and are well known. What is the point other than to r
Diane S ☔
Aug 15, 2014 rated it liked it
3.5 A camp for re-education during China's Great Leap forward, created a very disturbing read. Have thought about this book on and off for days. None of the characters have actual names, they are called by the profession that landed them in this no mans land. The author, sent to write a tell all book about her fellow internees, the Doctor, the artist and so on, all try to retain parts of their pasts. Books forbidden are hidden in various places, ferreted out and turned in by someone else for a r ...more
Sidharth Vardhan
Not a review. This book could have been far more enjoyable, if I wasn't so ignorant about Chinese history. But that last chapter still made the book so worth it. If you too find yourself struggling with symbolism, the following link might be of help:

Robert Wechsler
Feb 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: asian-lit
This is truly a masterpiece. I bet, even as late as halfway, that Yan could not sustain this incredible satire. Satire should be short. I was wrong. Instead of short, this satire is simple and repetitive in very effective ways, and it moves with circumstances, which change slowly (often seasonal), just in time to keep the reader from being frustrated by this slow, measured novel, preserving its form as it becomes darker and darker. In fact, measurements are important to this novel, measurements ...more
May 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
non ci sono parole per descrivere la meraviglia di questo libro, che ti scaraventa nell'efferatezza del campo 99 e ti mette di fronte alla banalità del male.
e quindi mi limito a fare la ola, in un tripudio di fuochi d'artificio e mortaretti.
Jun 06, 2017 rated it liked it
I have a few conflicting feelings in regards to this book.

It was interesting and definitely kept me hooked to the end but still, I was lost during the entire book.
I think this was in part due to the reason that I have minuscule knowledge when it comes to the history of China. So when I went into this book, all I knew was that it is based on a true event that actually did occur but I knew nothing about this event until I read the book. The other issue was that there were a lot of biblical referen
A very cleverly written book covering 1958-1962 in China, the reeducation camps, the shambolic quest to make steel-making a village industry and the resulting famines.
The inmates have no names and are known by their occupations - author, theologian, doctor, musician. The camp commandant is young, uneducated and ignorant and is known as the Child. There are ludicrous agreements for crop targets, a joint belief that steel can be made from sand and a motivational scheme based on winning paper flowe
Katy Noyes
Dec 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
I've read Wild Swans. And loved it. But there isn't a lot of material out there that shows us what happened inside China's Cultural Revolution, about those sent for 're-education'. This book helps with that.

It felt insane enough to be compared to books such as Catch-22, the absurdity of it all. It felt brutal and demeaning and somehow hilarious at the same time.

Inside a huge labour camp set up to house and re-educate 'criminals' (i.e. intellectuals such as teachers and writers), one group become
Paul Fulcher
"Of the four texts that make up this manuscript, Criminal Records was initially published in the 1980s as a collection of historical documents, while the Author's nearly five-hundred page historical account, Old Course, was not published until around 2002, by which time circumstances had changed to the point that it was greeted with almost complete silence. A copy of Heaven's Child, meanwhile, was purchased several years ago in a secondhand book stall. It had been published by China's Ancient Bo ...more
Feb 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reto-2017
Se nos describe con cierto matiz poético la cara b de la revolución china: campos de "re-educación" donde se llevaban a lo más ilustrado de la china de los años cincuenta, para realizar trabajos forzosos en los hornos de hierro. Es inquietante, te lleva a la reflexión que independientemente de la cultura, el país o la idiosincracia, la humanidad sufre exactamente lo mismo en regímenes autoritarios, que censuran y reprimen, la táctica de castigo-recompensa se requiere para accionar a las personas ...more
Sotiris Karaiskos
May 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: contemporary
Το ταξίδι μου για την αναζήτηση λογοτεχνικών εμπειριών Εκτός του αγγλοσαξονικού κόσμου με έφερε τελικά στην Κίνα, με αφορμή ένα βιβλίο που αναφέρεται σε μία εποχή ιδιαίτερα σκοτεινή θα έλεγα. Στα τέλη της δεκαετίας του 50 είχε γίνει μία οργανωμένη προσπάθεια για αύξηση της βιομηχανικής και αγροτικής παραγωγής, με στόχους που η λέξη φιλοδοξία είναι πολύ μικρή για να την περιγράψει. Τελικά αυτή η προσπάθεια που έφερε το βιομηχανικό της σκέλος μία παταγώδη Αποτυχία και στο αγροτικό της σκέλος το με ...more
The Four Books is set in a Chinese re-education camp during the Great Leap Forward. The inclusion of both fable and satire made it difficult to determine what was realistic and what was surreal. The pacing seemed off as well. The first 70% of the book really drags, while the final 25% flies by, but covers some repulsive topics. In the end, this book left me with far more questions than answers. I read an interview with the author that just confused me further. The only takeaways I got from this ...more
Apr 03, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, chinese-lit
I happened upon ‘The Four Books’ amongst the library’s new acquisitions, then subsequently realised it’s a Man Booker finalist. It deals with the Great Leap Forward, a disastrous attempt at rapid economic transformation instituted by Mao from 1958 to 1961 that resulted in appalling famine. The translator’s note at the beginning comments on the structure of the novel, which ostensibly weaves together extracts from four different documents. I was therefore expecting a quite experimental narrative, ...more
I picked this up because I've been wanting to read more translated fiction, and I figured that seeing as this was on the Man Booker International long list, it was bound to be good. And, for the most part, it was. But about 60% of the way through it took a turn for the SUPER WEIRD and I don't quite know how to process it.

This book is set at a re-education camp during the Great Leap Forward. It's a period of history that I know essentially nothing about, so it made for fascinating reading. And I
Jan 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
il grande balzo in avanti verso il burrone

Il grande balzo in avanti fu il piano economico e sociale praticato dalla Repubblica Popolare Cinese dal 1958 al 1961, che aveva l'intento di riformare rapidamente il paese, trasformando il sistema economico rurale, fino ad allora basato sull'agricoltura, in una moderna e industrializzata società comunista caratterizzata anche dalla collettivizzazione.
Esso si rivelò tuttavia un disastro economico ed è considerato dalla maggior parte degli storici come la
Alex Sarll
Mao's 'Great Leap Forward'; the greatest act of mass murder in a century that was regrettably rich in contenders for that title, and the subject of this humane yet unflinching novel. But sheer weight of megadeaths isn't the only reason I find the period especially uncomfortable to read about. Sure, people are now less prone to glibly pronouncing 'never again' than they were, or considering its baby brother the Holocaust to be unique; we've all seen too many other geopolitical fuck-ups headed tha ...more
Ondřej Puczok
Feb 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Knihu jsem neočekávaně obdržel na Vánoce a hned ten den jsem s ní začal. Prokousat se prvními kapitolami (hlavně tedy tou první) je sice obtížnější, ale jak se do textu pak člověk "zažere", už ho to nepustí. Pochopí styl, název a vůbec "nesmyslné" číslování a řazení kapitol. A i když jsem měl státnice, každý den jsem alespoň kousíček knihy projel. Proč? To téma je prostě fenomenálně zpracované. Styl, kterým je kniha psána prostě donutí člověka navíc sem tam projít historické články, porovnávat s ...more
Jindřich Čermák
Neuvěřitelně silné čtení z dob, kdy Říše středu chystala Velký skok a výsledkem byl jen Velký pád. Do knížky se dostává těžce, čtenář si musí zvyknout na jiný styl vyprávění a čínskou poetiku obecně, nicméně po pohlcení mu bude odměnou nevšední dílo, ze kterého až mrazí.
Mar 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ve všech rozměrech strašlivá kniha, kterou by měli lidi číst, aby nezapomínali, čeho jsou lidi coby lidstvo schopni, zvláště pak v režimech totalitních. V období hladomoru přestává být člověk člověkem, přestože umí mluvit.
Jackson Cyril
Apr 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Lianke's satire on Chairman Mao's re-education camps is both a meditation on 20th century China, and the human condition as a whole. Seriously brilliant stuff.
Mar 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: chinese-lit
". . .But I just ask one thing of you, which is that you not bring me down. I want to bake up here under the hot sun . . . you absolutely must remember this. Remember my words . . . let me bake under the hot sun!"

Trigger Warning: cannibalism, very graphic rape scene, read at your own risk.

A book that makes me cry always deserve my solid five stars.
This is a novel which I had to sit and make myself read - which is not usually a good thing. I just struggled to find a plot which was engaging enough for me to need to continue reading it to find out what happened and so, for me, this wasn't exactly a page turner.

However, if you're picking up this book it is probably not for the latest thriller - the political and social satire is far reaching, thought provoking and expertly delivered. There is no doubt that this is a brave novel - both for the
David Gurevich
Apr 10, 2015 rated it liked it
Yan Lianke takes a brave plunge into the muddy waters of the Great Leap of ‘58-’60, when Mao with quasi-American optimism decided to build a modern economy from scratch by true and tried (by Stalin) totalitarian methods. The author sends a group of intellectuals to a work camp Re-Ed 99, where they are to build steel smelters and then get record wheat crops. Satire is broad and unsparing: all metal house utensils are collected and melted to get a single steel ingot; when utensils run out, inmates ...more
Aug 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
I do not know what to say to make people want to read this book. All I know is that they should. Maybe because of the Chinese translation, it was clunky at the beginning, but it could have been as a reader, it took me a while to get used to the journal style. Be all that as it may, when the book grabbed me, it did not let me go.

A study of human nature during "Re-Education" at the "Great Leap Forward" period initially made me bring the book home from the new Fiction section of the library. ALso,
Mar 18, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016, 2016-mbi
I have to admit to not knowing much about China's Great Leap Forward (1958-1961), but the first half of this book was an interesting allegorical novel looking at this period. A group of people are being "re-educated" in a camp/prison in order to make them fit to be part of normal society again.

The second half becomes much more surreal and, if I am honest, really rather weird. I think it is the author pushing the allegory but it becomes rather harrowing (I was reminded of The Narrow Road to the D
Apr 06, 2015 rated it liked it
I read over half of this book, and finished up skimming the rest as it became increasingly odd and grotesque. The satire is well done, but almost 340 pages of it becomes tedious, and the inability to feel as though any of the characters have personality (which _is_ part of the satire, certainly) makes it hard to feel as though you're reading about real people.
It's set in a re-education camp for intellectuals during the Great Leap Forward, one of China's many crazy periods during Mao's dictators
Alissa McCarthy
Mar 07, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book in Asia Books in Bangkok. It has just recently been long-listed for the 2016 Man Booker Prize. Banned in mainland China, it is squarely planted in a blank passage of official history, the years between 1958 and 1962, and the catastrophic events that the party created and which it continues to try to scrub from the nation’s memory. This was the time of the Great Leap Forward, Mao’s crash industrialization scheme. Agriculture collapsed, the countryside was devastated, and up to 4 ...more
Amanda Sie
Sep 04, 2018 rated it really liked it

Lol ok so the first half of this book had me in fits cuz it had the same feeling in my gut of unending absurdity and insanity that catch 22 kind of gave me in freshman year high school when I thought I would understand that book lmao ANYWAY omg yall I had to do some wiki reading cuz at one point some crazy shit happens and I really couldn’t tell if it actually happened or not. I’m literally starting my grad program in sociology and this was a bl
Dec 22, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Chvilku mi trvalo, než jsem se do knihy začetla, ale pak mě to dost chytlo. Zajímavý bylo téma (Velká kulturní revoluce) i zpracování (zápisky spisovatele, tedy Spisovatele - protože charaktery v knize nemají jména). Navíc i výborný překlad - zatím mě žádná z knih z nakladatelství Verzone nezklamala.
Mar 13, 2016 rated it it was ok
An okay novel describing, in a real/surreal mix of styles, the tragic destiny of the intellectual class during the Great Leap Forward in China. For me this novel was neither boring, nor gripping. It was also too surreal to allow me to understand how true any of the tragic events described really were (thus undermining the impression this novel would have otherwise had on me).
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How does the last book relate to the other three? 1 2 Aug 31, 2017 10:26AM  
ManBookering: The Four Books by Yan Lianke 12 54 May 05, 2016 02:58PM  
The Mookse and th...: 2016 Shortlist: The Four Books 3 25 Apr 13, 2016 10:12PM  
The Mookse and th...: 2016 Longlist: The Four Books 2 13 Mar 30, 2016 05:51PM  

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Yan Lianke (simplified Chinese: 阎连科; traditional Chinese: 閻連科; pinyin: Yán Liánkē; Wade–Giles: Yen Lien-k'e, born 1958) is a Chinese writer of novels and short stories based in Beijing. His work is highly satirical, which has resulted in some of his most renowned works being banned.

He started writing in 1978 and his works include: Xia Riluo (夏日落), Serve the People (为人民服务), Enjoyment (受活), and Drea
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