A surprising and highly entertaining story of revolutionary vigor and sexual desire, infused with the humor of Yan Lianke’s Serve the People!, Hard Like Water is an unforgettable portrait of two young revolutionaries whose forbidden love sets them against their small Henan village, but whose communist fervor puts them on the right side of Chinese history.
Returning to his village invigorated by success in the army, Gao Aijun sees the beautiful Xia Hongmei walking barefoot alongside the railway track in the warm afternoon sun, and is instantly smitten. Hiding their relationship from their spouses, the pair hurl themselves into the struggle to bring revolution to their backwater village, whose only point of interest is the immense Cheng Temple dedicated to ancient feudal lords. Aijun and Hongmei wait to consummate their relationship until Aijun has managed to dig a literal tunnel of love between their homes, and underneath the village their revolutionary and sexual fervor reaches boiling point. While the unsuspecting villagers sleep, they sing revolutionary songs and shout Maoist slogans to each other before making earth-moving love. But when their relationship is finally uncovered, the couple finds themselves dangerously at odds with the doctrinaire and self-disciplined ideals of party higher-ups—and even Aijun’s grandiose plan to destroy Cheng Temple is called into question. Will their great revolutionary energy save their skins, or will they too fall victim to the revolution?
Upturning the ideals of socialist realism, Hard Like Water is an operatic and surprisingly moving human drama about power’s corrupting nature and the brute force of love and desire.
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