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The Participant Observer Book of the Month is: The Explosion Chronicles by Yan Lianke

Just in time for the U.S.-China summit meeting between Donald Trump and Xi Jinping, the World View Project brings you its April 2017 Book of the Month, Yan Lianke's The Explosion Chronicles (2016), a "burlesque of a nation driven insane by money"(Wall Street Journal). Award-winning author Yan Lianke satirically chronicles the comically successful efforts of the village of Explosion's leading families to transform it into a modern metropolis. "The resulting novel is a hyper-real tour de force, a blistering condemnation of political corruption and excess masquerading as absurdist saga. Yan has the unenviable yet suitably illogical reputation of being simultaneously China's most feted and most banned author."—The Financial Times

The Explosion Chronicles is an international best-seller, nominated for the Man Booker Award and favorably reviewed by a long list of publications including The New York Times ("superlative gifts for storytelling and penetrating eye for truth"), Kirkus Reviews ("Brilliant.."), Le Monde ("Yan Lianke's poetic prose rewards those who read to the end of this great novel of rare profundity"), The Library Journal ("An epic page-turner . . . a multi-layered marvel"), and The Guardian ("one of China's greatest living authors").

First published in China in 2013 and translated into the English in late 2016, The Explosion Chronicle has recently garnered even more attention from the Western press as the China-U.S. summit approaches. Only last week The Financial Times had this to say:"[T]he novel is a pointed indictment of… an exaggerated reality of deliberate, collective stupidity and counterfactuality, strikingly similar to today's concept of "fake news".
Explosion, named for its original settlement by a group of refugees fleeing a volcano eruption during the Song Dynasty, is situated in Yan's own Henan province, the setting for many of his works. "After the founding of new China in 1949, the history of Explosion Village replicated in miniature the pain and prosperity undergone by the nation itself," writes the author, who fictionalizes himself as the designated literary personage commissioned to write the history of the village's extraordinary metamorphosis. A monomaniacal ambition links the fate of the satisfyingly corrupt Kong brothers and Zhu Ying, the vengeful daughter of the village chief supplanted by their father. Yan's exposition of the Macbeth-like clan rivalry between the Kong and Zhu families is an obvious reflection of the purges and power struggles among China's ruling elite, as is the preoccupation with the cyclical nature of "progress" and the lamenting of the loss of the bedrock of ancient Chinese culture as the rush to advancement becomes ever more frenzied. Central to this tumult is the fated union of Zhu Ying — who leaves Explosion after her father's murder, returning later in triumph as a brothel owner and businesswoman extraordinaire — and Kong Mingliang, who has taken Zhu Qingfang's place as village chief. Their marriage leads to the joining of two clans, rivalry and duplicitousness in extremis. There are some extraordinary set pieces in the book: the village elders encouraged to commit suicide so that they can be buried before a new mass cremation law comes into jurisdiction; a fantastical scene where visiting American speculators, one of whom has made a throwaway remark about preferring Vietnamese to Chinese women, are made to replay their Vietnam war crimes in a kind of Grand Theft Auto action adventure video game in order that they be blackmailed into investing in the burgeoning city.—The Financial Times
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