Lenin’s Kissesby Yan Lianke Translated from by Carlos Rojas
A fiercely satirical story of greed and corruption from “one of China’s most successful fiction writers” (The New York Times).
In the bucolic village of Liven in the middle of a sweltering summer, it suddenly begins to snow, a hot snow that falls for seven days—seven long days that not only transform summer into winter but that forever disrupt the balance of life. This mystifying climatic incongruity begins the award-winning novel Lenin’s Kisses, an absurdist masterpiece that melds fable, history, and satire in an enthralling tragicomedy set in modern day China.
Nestled deep within the Balou mountains, by and large spared from the government’s watchful eye, the people of Liven enjoy harmonious days filled with enough food and leisure to be fully content. But when their crops are obliterated by the unseasonal snowstorm, and with it their livelihood, a county official arrives with a lucrative scheme both to raise money for the district and boost his career. He convinces the village to start a traveling performance troupe showcasing their talents, which are unlike anything he has ever witnessed. The majority of the 197 villagers are disabled, and their skill sets include Blind Tonghua’s acute listening, One-Eye’s one-eyed needle threading, and Deafman Ma’s firecrackers on the ear. With the profits from this extraordinary show, the county official intends to buy Lenin’s embalmed corpse from Russia—where it is slowly decaying from lack of upkeep—and install it in a grand mausoleum in the mountains to attract tourism. In the ultimate marriage of capitalism and communism, such an incredible acquisition would benefit the inhabitants of Liven as well as the entire region. However, even the best intentions go astray, and the success of the Shuanghuai County Special-Skills Performance Troupe comes at a serious price.
Yan Lianke, one of China’s most distinguished writers—whose works often push the envelope of his country’s censorship system—delivers a humorous, daring, and riveting portrait of the trappings and consequences of greed and corruption at the heart of all humanity.
“Both a blistering satire and a bruising saga . . . Yan boldly plunges into the psychic gap between China’s decades-old conditioned response to communist doctrine and its redefinition of itself as a capitalist power, creating with bold, carnivalesque strokes a heartbreaking story of greed, corruption, and the dangers of utopia.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“[An] epic jest of a novel . . . Yan’s postmodern cartoon of the Communist dream caving to run-amok capitalism is fiendishly clever.” —New York Times Book Review
“Lenin’s Kisses wickedly satirizes a sycophantic society where money and power are indiscriminately worshiped.” —Wall Street Journal
“A funny yet dark satirical novel . . . [that] offers Western readers a unique perspective on rural China . . . Lenin’s Kisses [is] hard to put down.” —Chicago Tribune
“[A] mind-blowing story . . . incorporating satire, social and political criticism of life under Chinese Communism, as well as the limitations of capitalism—especially when the formerly oppressed become filthy rich—under such a political system. Lenin’s Kisses provides illuminating insight.” —Counterpunch
“[A] complex, captivating masterpiece. . . . [Lianke] summons rare wonder: he manages to create a wretched, absurd and beautiful universe both brand-new and newly eternal.” —Macleans
“Lenin’s Kisses is a grand comic novel, wild in spirit and inventive in technique. It’s a rhapsody that blends the imaginary with the real, raves about the absurd and the truthful, inspires both laughter and tears. Carlos Rojas’s translation captures the vigor of the original, funny, poised, peculiar but always rational. The publication of this magnificent work in English should be an occasion for celebration.” —Ha Jin, author of Waiting and Nanjing Requiem
“A masterpiece on many levels, most pertinently literary. It is crafted in the most lyrical prose style, and in an intimate voice filled with poetic flourishes and narrative craftsmanship. This is a tale of modern China with all its wonders, marvels and absurdities and ironies roped together, making it a must-read. It’s little wonder that the author has won both China’s equivalences of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. And this book is the finest gem to reflect this man’s gift.” —Da Chen, author of My Last Empress
“Lenin’s Kisses shines with both the lyrical flourishes of magical realism and the keenly sharpened knives of great satire. The reader joins the inhabitants of the village of Liven as they confront the great upheavals of 20th Century Chinese history armed with both whimsy and their obsessive determination to prevail. This tale is at once breathtaking and seriously funny. Anyone who wishes to understand the psychic world-view of the modern People’s Republic of China must read this fine novel.” —Vincent Lam, author of The Headmaster’s Wager
“With its distinctive language, structure, and narrative method, Lenin’s Kisses presents a distinctive vision of ‘rural China’ and ‘revolutionary China,’ even while establishing a new literary ‘native China.’” —Contemporary Literature Commentary
“The novel’s depth lies in its ability to express an unbearable sorrow, even while constantly making the reader laugh out loud . . . a truly miraculous novel.” —Hong Kong Ming Pao Weekly
New Yorker Best Book of 2012
MacLeans Best Books of 2012
Kirkus Best Fiction of 2012
New York Times Editors’ Choice
Carlos Rojas is the translator of several books by Yan Lianke, including The Day the Sun Died, The Years, Months, Days, The Explosion Chronicles, The Four Books, shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize, and Lenin’s Kisses. His other translations include Yu Hua’s Brothers, which he co-translated with Eileen Cheng-yin Chow and which was short-listed for the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize. He is the author of Homesickness: Culture, Contagion, and National Reform in Modern China, The Great Wall: A Cultural History, and The Naked Gaze: Reflections on Chinese Modernity, as well as many articles. He is a professor in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University.