Step-brothers Baldy Li and Song Gang couldn't be more different. While Baldy is a girl-chasing teen, Song is quiet and studious. The two come of age in a vibrant Chinese culture struggling with constant change.
©2009 Eileen Chow and Carlos Rojas; (P)2009 Recorded Books, LLC
Baldy Li, the hero of Yu's epic third novel, comes into the world on the same day his father slips to a disgraceful demise while ogling women in a public toilet. The incident is big news in tiny Liu Town, China, and leaves the family tainted with shame. Yet even as Baldy Li and his mother, Li Lan, cower under the taunts of their neighbors, things begin to change for the better. The tall, handsome Song Fanping falls in love with Li Lan and marries her. Li Lan gains new happiness and Baldy Li gains an older stepbrother, Song Gang. Together, the two boys weather the changes of the Cultural Revolution, reform and globalization, and Yu's unflinching narrative, by turns tragic and hilarious, shows ordinary lives being broken down and built up again. (Publishers Weekly)
Something a little different, a little strange in places and a rollercoaster ride through China's recent history. I liked this book a lot for exposing me to another culture, in a bizarre and unique way, for being irreverent and bold and for melding that perfectly with a moving and emotional story. I like stories like The Joy Luck Club or Memoirs of a Geisha but sometimes find they take themselves a bit too seriously and I desire something spunkier but that still deals with cultural, historical and even tragic events. This book hit it just right. The book uses the story of two loyal and dedicated brothers (despite frequent rifts and betrayals) to personify the rapid cultural changes in China. If this kind of story interests you and as long as you aren't offended by strong language you'll enjoy this book.
If you enjoyed Gunter Grass's "The Tin Drum" and Salman Rushdie's "Midnight Children," you'll like this novel.
The NY Times review too harshly criticizes the translators' inability to capture the nuances of the many Chinese aphorisms. The same criticism could be made of every translation. But this defect doesn't diminish the overall tone and power of the book. If anything, it reminds the reader he is dealing with a different culture.
The story sketches a post-modern/magical realism bildungsroman of two Chinese half-brothers from the crushing poverty of The Cultural Revolution to the hyper-materialism of present China.
For me, the most compelling part of the book was the cruelty visited on the brothers' father by the Red Guard.
There is also a love story involving a beautiful village girl for whom the brothers competed. But I won't spoil; you'll have to listen yourself.
Really, after listening to hundreds of books of the years (starting on tapes, then CD's then downloads), I rarely just give up. I mean if I could get through Roberto Bolaño's 39 hour "2666", I could get through most anything. But after 3 hours of "Brothers", I was just getting really annoyed and bored . Then, after reading past reviews and comments, I realized it wasn't going to get any better.
What drew me to "Brothers" in the first place, was the idea of looking at the changes in China over the past 50 years through the eyes of two different men. With such an awkward translation it was making no sense. Made the decision to just stop. Oh well.
I enjoy stories of different cultures. This book captures at the village level changes that have occurred in China over the past 50 years. The biggest disappointment is the story of the brothers. Neither brother was an appealing character. One is basically a jerk and the other is an idiot. Like another reviewer I was about to give up when the beginning of the book beats the toilet scene to death. The main reason I continued to read the book is that I'd burn the 27 CD's for a road trip. If I'd been at home listening on my iPod I'd given up.
I am over an hour into this book and the discussion about peeking at women continues. Really now!
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