Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Hard Like Water

by Yan Lianke Translated from Chinese by Carlos Rojas

From a visionary, world-class writer, dubbed “China’s most controversial novelist” by the New Yorker, a gripping and biting story of ambition and betrayal, following two young Communist revolutionaries whose forbidden love sets them apart from their traditionally minded village, as the Cultural Revolution sweeps the nation

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 432
  • Publication Date June 14, 2022
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-5813-0
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $17.00
  • Imprint Grove Hardcover
  • Page Count 432
  • Publication Date June 15, 2021
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-5812-3
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $27.00
  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Publication Date June 15, 2021
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-5814-7
  • US List Price $27.00

Gao Aijun is a son of the soil of Henan’s Balou Mountains, and after a service in the Army, he is on his way back to his ancestral village, feeling like a hero. Close to his arrival, he sees a strikingly attractive woman walking barefoot alongside a railway track in the warm afternoon sun, and he is instantly smitten. She is Xia Hongmei and lives up to her name of “beautiful flower.” Hiding their relationship from their spouses, the pair hurl themselves into the struggle to bring revolution to their backwater village. They spend their days and nights writing pamphlets, organizing work brigades, and attending rallies, feeling they are the vanguard for the full-blown revolution that is waiting in the wings. Emboldened by encouragement from the Party, the couple dig a literal “tunnel of love” between their homes, where underneath the village their revolutionary and sexual fervor reaches a boiling point. While the unsuspecting villagers sleep, they sing revolutionary songs and compete in shouting-matches of Maoist slogans before making earth-moving love. But when their torrid relationship is finally discovered, and they have to answer to Hongmei’s husband, their dreams of a bright future together begin to fray. Will their great revolutionary energy save their skins, or will they too fall victim to the revolution that is swallowing up the country?

A novel of rare emotional force and surprising humor, Hard Like Water is an operatic and brilliantly plotted human drama about power’s corrupting nature and the brute force of love and desire.

Tags Literary

Praise for Hard Like Water:

A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice
Named a Most Anticipated Book by the Guardian and Book Riot

“The novel, a parody, sets itself up as a kind of Maoist Anna Karenina when Aijun arrives home and spots a beautiful young woman at the train station, portending a conclusion just as disastrous and physically gruesome as Tolstoy’s . . . At its core, Hard Like Water seeks to make a mockery of claims to political purity. As Hongmei and Aijun arouse each other with propaganda slogans and revolutionary citations, the novel pokes fun at how easily an ideology can be contorted to satisfy individual desires.”—Jennifer Wilson, New York Times Book Review

“A blistering tour de force that wraps itself in ideological language in order to pull out that language by the roots . . . Carlos Rojas’s exceptional translation makes English feel new again. Yan’s linguistic daring, and the novel’s relentless stream of provocative images and observations, create a sensuous and riveting world . . . A sharp, desperately moving analysis of the logic of ideology. Its mashup of literary and political texts poses the uncomfortable and timely question: how did each of us arrive at our certainties?”—Madeleine Thien, Guardian

“Like some Bonnie and Clyde of Maoist fanaticism, Aijun and Hongmei set about smashing every bond of family and friendship in pursuit of their blood-red new dawn. Yet self-awareness, even a guilty conscience, never quite deserts this monstrous couple, ‘not only a pair of great revolutionaries but also a pair of abject adulterers.’ That inner conflict gives this book its pulse and point . . . Yan lets us share the aphrodisiac high of revolutionary madness even as he skewers the tyranny of narcissism—and the narcissism of tyranny. Book-burnings, ritual degradations, the arrogant conceit of vanguard youth: his Red Guard era feels both far away and oddly close to home.”—Boyd Tonkin, Financial Times

“Boisterous . . . In speech larded with Mao quotes and traditional maxims, Gao reveals how their romance, fuelled by the feverish political climate, pitches the village into ever-escalating extremism—a years-long parade of self-advancing schemes culminating in an unthinkable end.”—New Yorker

“The new masterpiece by eminent Chinese writer Yan Lianke . . . Two revolutionaries take matters disastrously into their own hands while conducting a crazed affair.”—Margaret Atwood, on Twitter

“A difficult but fascinating work, a novel in which the reader is constantly urged to measure the discrepancy between what’s being said and what’s happening . . . Jonathan Swift said satire is a mirror in which we see everyone’s features but our own . . . Yan’s challenge, to his samizdat readers in China and those beyond, is to look in the murky glass of ambition and self-deception and find the face that resembles their own.”—John Phipps, Times (UK)

“[Hard Like Water] succeeds in using sensuality as a means to illuminate the period’s interwoven desires, from the physical to the ideological. Gao is all nerve endings, his eyes and ears are always on the alert, his hands ever eager to reach out and touch people and things. The revolution itself has become sexual for him, and Yan brilliantly makes us see how odd—yet natural—that is. But, if the novel dovetails sexuality and revolution, it also depicts the conservatism that opposes sexual freedom . . . By examining this intractable conflict—between freedom and containment—without flinching, Yan proves to be a social analyst of impressive power . . . An important book.”—Maxwell Olin Massa, Arts Fuse

“An epic tale of love and lust, betrayal and corruption, set in a reverential village in Henan’s Balou Mountains in the tumultuous days of the Cultural Revolution. The story of an all-consuming (and actively revolutionary) affair between two married party members, it’s an erotic political tragicomedy of Shakespearean proportions.”—Dan Sheehan, Literary Hub

“Part political commentary and part romance, this book contains extensive reflections on the philosophies behind the revolutionary thought of the time and descriptions of how the characters became involved in helping advance these ideas . . . Satisfying.”—Susan Huebert, Winnipeg Free Press

“A gritty, memorable story of love in a time of choler . . . Yan’s study of power and class struggle becomes, in the end, a near-classic tragedy with the subtlest of nods to his version of magical realism. Admirers of Yan’s work won’t be disappointed.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Yan probes the darkness and absurdity of Chinese society and history with a sexy satirical tale of the Cultural Revolution as wrought in a small village . . . Yan’s exuberant and unflinching tragicomedy is undeniably appealing.”—Publishers Weekly

“In China, notes Yan’s Anglophone enabler-of-choice Rojas, there exists ‘a literary subgenre known as “revolution plus love,” which was popular . . . in the late 1920s and 1930s.’ Always rather subversive, Yan transplants this subgenre into the turbulence of the Cultural Revolution to showcase ‘the erotics of revolutionary activism’ as exemplified by an impossible love story . . . Yan’s signature biting wit creates another indelible work of bittersweet humor and sociopolitical insight.”—Terry Hong, Booklist

“Filled with snippets of political propaganda, Yan’s book displays the degree of risk one may be willing to undertake, and the hardships one may endure, when striving to overcome oppression with hopes of personal gain . . . A must-read for those familiar with Yan’s writing.”—Library Journal

Praise for Yan Lianke:

Winner of the Franz Kafka Prize
Two-Time Finalist for the Man Booker International Prize

“Yan is one of those rare geniuses who finds in the peculiar absurdities of his own culture the absurdities that infect all cultures.”Washington Post

“China’s most controversial novelist . . . [A] preternatural gift for metaphor spills out of him unbidden.”New Yorker

“Yan’s subject is China, but he has condensed the human forces driving today’s global upheavals into a bracing, universal vision.”New York Times Book Review

“One of China’s eminent and most controversial novelists and satirists.”—Chicago Tribune

“His talent cannot be ignored.”—New York Times

“China’s foremost literary satirist . . . He deploys offbeat humor, anarchic set pieces and surreal imagery to shed new light on dark episodes from modern Chinese history.”—Financial Times

“[Yan is] criticizing the foundations of the Chinese state and the historical narrative on which it is built, while still somehow remaining one of its most lauded writers.”—New Republic

“There is nothing magical about Yan Lianke’s realism . . . [with his] unflinching eye that nevertheless leaves you blinking with the whirling absurdities of the human condition.”—Independent

“One of China’s most important—and certainly most fearless—living writers.”—Kirkus Reviews

“The work of the Chinese author Yan Lianke reminds us that free expression is always in contention—to write is to risk the hand of power.”—Guardian