Brothers by Yu Hua is becoming one of my favorite novels of the recent past. It came out in 2009 in America and it is a monster of a book, but it reads as fast and funny as Yu’s previous smaller offerings, To Live and Chronicle of a Blood Merchant. Those short novels were filled with ribald humor, and the massive Brothers has doubled up on both the laughs and the sorrow. This is China one is reading about.
Outside of Yu I know nothing of Chinese authors; I don’t know if Chang Rae Lee or Ha Jin–names I’ve seen on books–are Chinese, Chinese-American, British subjects of Hong Kong, or Alabama natives. Mo Yan won the Nobel Prize for Lit a couple years back, and I still haven’t heard anyone tell me I need to read him, but I know he’s Chinese because a bunch of people who hadn’t read him got upset that he won the Nobel.
Yu Hua is a terrific novelist. With Brothers he tells a story of two brothers in a fictional Chinese town in the 1960s and 70s where people are named after their occupations–Blacksmith Tong, Poet Zhao, Yanker Yu–he yanks out teeth. A third into the book at page 200, the brothers Baldy Li and Song Gang are 15 and 16 respectively. Here’s a good comprehensive review of Brothers from the LA Times in 2009.