Friday, June 3, 2011

A Review of Dream of Ding Village by Yan Lianke (translated from the Chinese by Cindy Carter)

Dream of Ding Village

4 out of 5: In Yan Lianke’s novel, Dream of Ding Village, a remote, agricultural village in China suffers from an AIDS epidemic. Ten years ago, the inhabitants of Ding Village sold their blood to blood collectors to increase their wealth and improve their standard of living. While the blood sales allowed the villagers to replace their traditional mud and thatch huts with two-story houses made of brick and tile, the unclean blood collection practices infected many villagers with AIDS. This novel’s disturbing premise is based on the true story of the 1990s AIDS scandal in Henan Province.

The novel is narrated from the grave by the murdered son of Ding Village’s primary blood collector. The dead boy describes the slow and painful deaths of the AIDS-infected villagers, as well as the actions taken by the villagers in response to the calamity. Some attempt to profit from the tragedy (stealing from the sick or selling coffins, for example) while others seek to alleviate the pain of the sufferers or to bring hope to the dying. Lianke’s prose embodies a sing-song, repetitive quality reminiscent of an oral storytelling tradition, and the plight of the dying villagers is reflected and magnified by the parallel destruction of the village’s land, which suffers from drought and neglect.

Dream of Ding Village occasionally loses focus and, near the end, approaches absurdity with a complicated subplot about arranged marriages between dead people. While a tighter narrative would have increased this novel’s power, Dream of Ding Village remains a compelling portrayal of humanity’s ever-present potential for self-destruction.


Zibilee said...

This book intrigues the hell out of me. I had no idea that it was based on a true story, but I think that makes it even more compelling to me. I can't imagine why they would be selling their blood, but the disaster that befalls them after they have done that seems almost too horrific to be true. I need to read this one, and thank you for your fantastic review, as I probably would have never heard of this book elsewhere.

Swapna said...

This book sounds intriguing, but I'm not sure how well it would work for me. Thanks for the review.