Feature

Novel of the week: Brothers by Yu Hua

In Yu Hua’s caustic but “terrifically funny” new novel, two toilets tell the tale of two Chinas.

translated by Eileen Cheng-yin Chow and Carlos Rojas(Pantheon, $29.95)

A business tycoon sits on his gold-plated toilet, thinking back to the incident at a communal rural toilet that first earned him a name as an entrepreneur. In Yu Hua’s caustic but “terrifically funny” new novel, those toilets tell the tale of two Chinas, said Ben Ehrenreich in the Los Angeles Times. In the China of the tycoon’s youth, “women’s bottoms” were “a rare and precious commodity,” and a teenage peeper could make a good living spinning yarns about the gems he’d seen. In today’s China, money is everyone’s passion. Both worlds are “equally tragic and equally ridiculous” in Yu’s “waggish but merciless depiction.” His “bawdy” best-seller has been bashed in China by offended critics, said Renee Graham in The Boston Globe. But “there are no empty provocations” in Yu’s epic, and its tale of two brothers choosing different paths boasts a sentimental side, too. The tycoon’s dependable and long-suffering brother represents “everything a bustling new China wants to leave behind.” His death, at the novel’s outset, lends an elegiac cast to an otherwise rambunctious tale that stands as “one of the great literary achievements of this nascent year.”

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