Heart Sutraby Yan Lianke Translated from Chinese by Carlos Rojas
From “China’s foremost literary satirist” (Financial Times) comes a captivating new novel set at a religious training center in Beijing
Unable to be published in his native China, Yan Lianke’s latest novel is a wryly humorous and deeply moving story of modernity, tradition, and the struggle for expression. At the Religious Training Center on the campus of Beijing’s National Politics University, disciples of China’s five main religions—Buddhism, Daoism, Protestantism, Catholicism, and Islam—gather for a year of intensive study and training. In this hallowed yet jovial atmosphere, the institute’s two youngest disciples—Yahui, a Buddhist jade nun, and Gu Mingzheng, a Daoist master—fall into an uneasy acquaintance that might bloom into something more.
Meanwhile, the worldly Director Gong has a project of his own: he has organized tug-of-war competitions between the religions. The fervor of competition offers excitement for the disciples, as well as a lucrative source of fundraising, but Yahui looks on the games with distrust: her beloved mentor collapsed after witnessing one of these competitions. In addition to his studies, Gu Mingzheng is also intent on discovering the identity of his unknown father. As the two young disciples grow closer and fall in love, it soon becomes clear that corruption is seeping ever more deeply into the foundation of the institute under Director Gong’s watch. Yahui and Gu Mingzheng will be forced to ask themselves whether it is better to stay committed to an increasingly fraught faith or to return together to secular life forever—and nothing less than the fate of the gods itself is at stake.
Illustrated throughout with beautiful original papercuts, animated by Yan Lianke’s characteristically incisive sense of humor, Heart Sutra is a stunning and timely novel that highlights the best and worst in mankind and interrogates the costs of division.
Winner of a PEN Translates Award for Heart Sutra
Winner of the Newman Prize for Chinese Literature
Winner of the Franz Kafka Prize
Two-Time Finalist for the Man Booker International Prize
“Yan’s writing does for the Chinese heartland what John Steinbeck did for the American West, or Thomas Hardy for Southwest England.”—Newman Prize for Chinese Literature Citation
“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