Thanks to Mr. Sidney Suo for his review below of the book To Live, by Yu Hua. Translation is by Sky Zhang, a grade 10 student.
Among many award-winning Chinese authors Yu Hua was the first Chinese writer to receive James Joyce Award (2002). His novels have been translated into English, French, German, Italian, Dutch, Japanese, Korean and many other languages. To Live is the most loved book by Yu Hua and it won Premio Grinzane Cavour, an award voted by Italian young readers and the Man Asian Literary Prize, an annual literary award given to the best novel by an Asian writer.
“Yu Hua is the most profound voice coming out of China today. To Live reaches not only into the very essence of the Chinese people but into the blood and bones core of what it means to be a human being.” Lisa See, author of On Gold Mountain
Books by Yu Hua are displayed with works by other contemporary Chinese authors as Su Tong, Mo Yan, etc., at a special location in the library. Non-fiction books on Chinese philosophy and Chinese history in Chinese and English are also available.
To Live was the first the book written by Yu Hua that I have read. After reading it for the first time about 10 years ago, I have read other works such as Shouting in the Rain, Chronicle of a Blood Merchant and Brothers by the same author. In comparison, To Live affected me the most and left me with the strongest impression.
I remember finishing this rather thin book in one sitting on a humid, warm afternoon in spring, unable to calm down my thoughts. The story took place at a time of change in the last century, and its captivating plot and life-like characters left me with a feeling of sorrow and grief which clung to my heart, and, like the humidity in the air that day, was unable to be waved away.
The story of To Live is told through the eyes of Fugui, who went through countless hardships and sufferings together with his family in those turbulent times. As the family’s only survivor and a witness of many unfortunate events, Fugui tells his story and experiences in a light-hearted way near the end of his life.
Lu Xun once said, tragedy is destroying something valuable in life for people to see. If this is true, then the story depicted in To Live is no doubt a total tragedy. The misfortunes in the characters’ lives caused even the carefree me ten years ago to shed tears. But being a grand piece of literature, the book not only showed life’s sufferings, it also sang of the greatness of life, and readers can’t help but be moved and emotionally warmed by the amazing humanity that the characters show even as they go through their tragic lives.
The title of the book, To Live, directs a fundamental philosophical question at the reader: Why do people live? What is the purpose of people’s lives?
Through the book’s most tragic character, Jiazhen, I seem to have found the answer, the message that Yu Hua wants to send to his readers: people live for the sake of living and nothing else.
My fellow readers, if, like me, you happen to have an afternoon to yourself and read this wonder of a novel, I believe that you too will find the answer that you are seeking for, comforting your sorrows and soothing your grief…