Yan Lianke—“China’s most feted and most banned author” (Financial Times)—is a master of imaginative satire, and his prize-winning works have been published around the world to the highest honors. Now, his two most acclaimed novellas are collected here in a single volume—masterfully crafted stories that explore the sacrifices made for family, the driving will to survive, and the longing to leave behind a personal legacy.
Marrow is the haunting tale of a widow who goes to extremes to provide a normal life for her four disabled children. When she discovers that bones—especially those of kin—can cure their illnesses and prevent future generations from the same fate, she feeds them a medicinal soup made from the skeleton of her dead husband. But after running out of soup, she resorts to a measure that only a mother can take.
In the luminous, moving title story, The Years, Months, Days—a bestselling, classic fable in China, and winner of the prestigious Lu Xun Literary Prize—an elderly man stays behind in his small village after a terrible drought forces everyone to leave. Unable to make the grueling march through the mountains, he becomes the lone inhabitant, along with a blind dog. As he fends off the natural world from overtaking his hometown, every day is a victory over death.
With touches of the fantastical and with deep humanity, these two magnificent novellas—masterpieces of the short form—reflect the universality of mankind’s will to live, live well, and live with purpose.
Praise for The Years, Months, Days
“These two compelling novellas both exalt emotional bonds and warn against their fatal consequences . . . this work again directs the author’s unflinching gaze on life’s impossible absurdities, exposing a surreal mixture of brutality, openness, even sly humor.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“Apocalyptic, eerie visions in two novellas by much-honored Chinese writer Yan . . . Inspired, one imagines, by the terrible headlines of famine, climate change, and simple uncertainty; Yan draws on the conventions of folklore and science fiction alike to produce memorable literature.” —Kirkus Reviews
Fourth Wife You said, “We are trying to cure his daughter’s illness. There’s nothing to explain.” With this, she entered the tomb, squatted down in front of the coffin and pushed aside a couple of maggots that had fallen onto the leg bones. She looked everything over and saw that, apart from some white moss, the walls of the tomb were completely intact. “Good soil in this tomb,” she remarked. Then she turned and asked, “Did you bring a sack?”
Second Son-in-Law took a white cloth out of his pocket and laid it out in the lighted area at the entrance to the tomb.
Fourth Wife You asked, “Which bone do you want?”
Second Son-in-Law said, “Whenever Second Daughter has an episode, her hand begins to tremble, so let’s take a bone from his hand.”
Fourth Wife You took two bones from her husband’s hand and placed them on the cloth, then asked, “What else?”
Second Son-in-Law said, “Whenever she has an episode she loses the ability to walk.”
Fourth Wife You took one of her husband’s leg bones and placed it on the cloth, then asked, “What else?”
Second Son-in-Law said, “Anything is fine. Just take a few more.”
Fourth Wife You said, “Mental illness is the result of something wrong in the brain, and if the brain can be fixed the illness will be cured. So, we should definitely use the skull.” As she was saying this, she took the skull and held it in both hands as though it were a bowl, then gently placed it on the cloth.
About the Translator
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.