Friday, 29 June 2018

The Years, Months, Days by Yan Lianke










A first reading of Lianke in a translation by Carlos Rojas, unfortunately it looks like other editions of the novella are accompanied with the short story Marrow although with the Vintage edition we only have the novella sized The Years, Months, Days, perhaps I saw that Marrow had been published previously as a Penguin China Special. Along with the novella translator Carlos Rojas gives an insightful preface into Lianke's oeuvre and the cases of censorship against his works and of the self censorship Lianke has performed in order to get his works published. The Day the Sun Died, a novel set in the Balou mountains due in English at the end of July, failed to be published by a mainland publisher at all.

As Carlos Rojas mentions in his introduction the narrative of The Years, Months, Days sometimes floats from the main protagonist, the Elder, sometimes finding balance between subject/object, it feels Rojas has managed to convey this in the translation, more direct dialogue has been italicised, mostly these moments of conversation are between the Elder and the other main character of the novella, the blind Dog. The narrative has a folklore element, mainly based in first person the ending it could be said drifts into resonation being one relayed via oral tradition. Essentially the novella relays the efforts of the Elder as he tends to a single ear of corn amidst a devastating drought with the hope of propagation. Throughout his arduous task of finding food and water the Elder faces a number of trials - a swarm of rats, a pack of wolves, all the while staving off hunger and thirst and of finding the stalk nutrients.

Although slim the book makes for resonating reading and with every turn of the page we struggle with it's protagonist's trials. The village abandoned, the responsibility of the continuation of the crop has fallen to him and the blind dog. There are some interesting and original touches to the story which sees the Elder weighing out sunlight, the stronger it is, the weightier it becomes. Through this extremity that Lianke puts his character through the temptation is there to read more into the significance of the drought, it's not too impossible to contemplate that the Elder's drought as perhaps containing alternative representations.

The Years, Months, Days at Vintage.            


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