The Four Books

Like many of Lianke’s works, The Four Books is unavailable in his native China; unsurprising, given its subject is the murderous stupidity of the 1958-61 ‘Great Leap Forward’ — its massive, avoidable death toll still obfuscated by rulers.

The Four Books

Yan Lianke

Chatto & Windus, €16.99; ebook. €11.99

Review: Alex Sarll

A realist telling would risk being so harrowing as to numb the senses, so instead this fractured fable pieces together four different accounts of one ‘re-education’ penal camp.

Directed by the monstrous, passive-aggressive, yet strangely innocent Child (the characters all have titles rather than names), the ‘criminal’ inmates accused of counter- revolutionary actions and beliefs strive madly to fulfil ever-changing instructions from the distant higher-ups, resorting to subterfuge and self-destruction in the effort to meet impossible production quotas.

Famine, disaster, and cannibalism inevitably follow, and the book becomes a progressively harder read, albeit one worth struggling through for its reminders of the worst (and occasionally, best) of which humanity is capable.


Breaking Stories

Families evacuated after gas explosion in Belfast

No Lotto winner - jackpot heads for €7m

Abortion referendum moves closer as committee votes against retaining 8th Amendment

Gardaí enlist Civil Defence to use drone in search for armed raider in Clare

Lifestyle

Facing fears while terrifying punters at Cork's Nightmare Realm

Weathering the storm of 1961: We watched 30 large trees uprooted

Remembering the dead: Poignant reason behind Cork’s Zombie Walk

More From The Irish Examiner