The Fat Years: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Jan 10 2012
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“Smart, incendiary . . . Although The Fat Years clearly owes a debt to Brave New World, Chan's characters are infinitely more believable, and drawn with a real sense of sympathy and understanding — something Huxley's archetypes famously lacked. As for plausibility, The Fat Years is almost too believable . . . An urgent clarion call for people in every country to treasure their individuality.”
"Chan has crafted a cunning caricature of modern China, with its friction between communism and consumerism, its desire to reframe the Revolution in terms of 'market share and the next big thing.' But he has also identified a deeper dislocation, one stretching from China to the world."
—Los Angeles Times
"With its offbeat puzzle and diverting characters, The Fat Years is not only absorbing in its own right, it also shines reflected light on the foibles of the West."
—The New York Times Book Review
"Inventive and highly topical."
—The Wall Street Journal
"A fascinating tale of China just over the horizon."
—The New Yorker
"Part political thriller, part dystopian nightmare . . . Chan reveals the moral and political perils of contemporary Chinese life."
"Eerily prescient. . . A gripping, if not terrifying, treatise on the rise of China, present and future."
"Possibly the most audacious book to have been published by a Chinese author not living in exile since Lu Xun excoriated the atrophied Confucianism of the early 20th century. . . . This novel isn’t only essential reading, it is also urgent."
—The Globe and Mail
"In conjuring China’s very near future, Chan Koonchung has given us a bracingly honest portrait of the present. He captures all the flamboyant paradoxes of daily life in China on the cusp of empire, but is also awake to its submerged anxieties. His writing is steeped in humor and fantasy, but his project could not be more serious: The struggle over the soul of a nation."
—Evan Osnos, Beijing correspondent, The New Yorker
"What happens when 1.3 billion Chinese are all very happy? The Fat Years is suspenseful, hilarious, intelligent, and dark — a powerful novel. Anyone interested in learning about the current state and future of China should read this novel."
—Shu-mei Shih, University of California, Los Angeles
"It's no wonder that the insecure Chinese authorities have banned this book in China itself. It tells stunning truths that those authorities strive hard to keep under the rug, and it tells them with a literary flair worthy of Orwell. Chan Koonchung's novel is deeply disturbing, biting, weirdly funny, and, above, all, piercingly honest."
—Richard Bernstein, author of The Coming Conflict with China
"A thought-provoking novel about China's tomorrow, that reveals the truth about China today."
—Xinran, author of The Good Women of China
"With echoes of Kafka, Lu Xun and Orwell, The Fat Years limns a New China that few have imagined: a booming, post-revolutionary land where historical and political amnesia are rewarded by the right to wealth and a seductive but amputated ‘good life.’ More unsettling, Chan's novel suggests that the ‘China's model’ of high-speed growth may mean that, far from heading towards greater openness and democracy as we have long imagined, history may actually be headed towards a new kind of Leninist consumerism."
—Orville Schell, Director of the Center on US-China Relations at the Asia Society
"Rarely does a novel tell the truth about a society in a way that has the power to shift our perceptions about that place in a fundamental way, but Chan Koonchung’s The Fat Years does exactly that. A dystopic political fantasy, it provides a frighteningly accurate portrayal of a rising world superpower where few things are as they seem, and where critics who persist in speaking truth to power are ‘harmonized’ in the name of social stability and maintenance of Communist Party control. If you read only one book about China this year, make it this one — it tells you more about China than any work of non-fiction."
—Didi Kirsten Tatlow, China Columnist, International Herald Tribune and New York Times
"This dystopia masterfully captures the dilemma today's Chinese face: embrace economic growth or fight for justice. Chan delves into Beijing’s conscience and does not like what he sees."
—Isaac Stone Fish, Reporter, Newsweek/Daily Beast
"Chan’s compelling dystopian fantasy reveals the underbelly of today’s Rising China while holding up a challenging mirror to fellow Chinese and all thoughtful readers."
—Timothy Cheek, University of British Columbia, author of Living with Reform: China Since 1989
"The Fat Years is the best and most accessible account of the multiple faces of China’s public intellectuals and the complicated world of popular authoritarianism in which they live. A distinctive form of whimsical realism that makes for compelling reading."
—Paul Evans, Director of the Institute of Asian Research, University of British Columbia
"Bracing, smart and entertaining."
"Hardly a thriller in the conventional sense of the word but a lot more scary than most."
"The Fat Years presents a vivid, intelligent and disturbing picture of the world’s emerging super-power."
About the Author
CHAN KOONCHUNG is a novelist, journalist, and screenwriter. Born in Shanghai and raised and educated in Hong Kong, he studied at the University of Hong Kong and Boston University. He has published more than a dozen Chinese-language books and in 1976 founded the monthly magazine City in Hong Kong, of which he was the chief editor and then publisher for twenty-three years. He has been a producer on more than thirteen films. Chan Koonchung now lives in Beijing.See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
Nevertheless, this book offers a welcome retread of Orwell’s ‘1984’ dis-utopic view of a political state where rights are granted to the individual and just as quickly taken away. All that is necessary is a convenient amnesia for certain events and to be happy, happy, happy as an alternative having a convenient amnesia for certain events (e.g., slavery, disenfranchisement of women, wars for territorial expansion, the list goes on) and consume, consume, consume. In this book, China has ‘won” (i.e., returned to it’s pre-colonial era level of wealth) and the West has reaped the inevitable reward of it’s robber Baron past. As with their neighbor, Japan, all that is required is to forget the Government’s willingness to use violence against citizens for what comes out of their mouth doing the USA’s concern with what goes into it’s citizen’s mouth.
The other literary shadow of this book would be the birth of the Moderns in Paris during the brief interruption of our own Hundred Year war. Still, a bird’s eye view of the social (no politics allowed for artist---see the current Chinese Government’s reaction to this book) is too light of a structure for this long of a book. Interested readers might be better served to listening to one of his interviews (CBC had a very good one and NPR might have conducted one as well).
If you can’t get a hold of either of those interviews, then you might as well curl up and dream with your greying eyes of the world to come.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
As for the plot, a group of Chinese intellectuals slowly uncover a huge Chinese conspiracy, a period of 28 days in which the Chinese people forget everything during a violent government crackdown.
As a compelling narrative, the novel doesn't work so well because the plot is more of an outline to hang various "essays" spoken by the characters. Some of the principals will talk for pages and pages in what are lectures about the current condition of China. A lot of these spoken essays are quote-worthy, including a reference to Hobbes' Leviathan in which a "short, brutish" existence compels the masses to rely on a governmental patriarch to create an illusion of security and how this longing makes the people compromise their freedom. This is one of many "lectures" about soft power.
I can't emphasize this enough: This novel is full of exposition spoken by the characters. The exposition points out a robust critique of modern China: consumerism in these "fat" years has become a sort of religion and a distraction as the old-guard elite continue to amass power; China's economy continues to boom even while the rest of world languishes in a recession evidencing that China will replace America as the sole super power; the Chinese government effectively uses propaganda to create an illusion of freedom (soft power) even while it asserts military rule over the people; while there is a group of freedom-loving cosmopolitans fighting for a new China, the masses are still dependent on the old-guard government for their sense of security.
This novel works as a fascinating book of ideas and captures what is going on behind the scenes in China, but it works more as an exposition than as a narrative.
This novel doesn't meet your typical expectations of a novel. The plot is simple, there is lots of buildup to great things but all the great things always fall flat with little or any attempts at drama. There is an quasi love story thats very unmoving in the middle of this that seems to have nothing really to do with anything. The background stories of all the characters while seeming important may as well have been mere page filler for all there use. Plus the author tries to be deeply philosphic but only ever achieves success when quoting better philosphers.
Yet I was unable to put this book down but for one reason. Reading was a great insight into the current Chinese state of mind...well a portion of China anyway. To imagine so amateur a novel ever being considered contreversial by western literary standards is absurd. Books about government conspiracies are almost as numerous as self help books. But that it could so rivet the attention of China and Taiwan made it fascinating for me.
Anyway this book is not bad and very engrossing if you enter with the correct expectations, those being to glimpse the mind set of the Chinese middle class.
This is a political thriller - not having individuals face off, but ideas. It is a very astute analysis of the West's on-going economic woes, a calm, sophisticated rationale about the way things now are, sociological insights and financial strategizing on grand scales. Its unique format is easily accessible and brings together many issues and aspects. So far, I've read it twice+. If you're a reader-between-the-lines you'll pause and consider both how things are said or not-said.
If you are a student of our times, times which are pivoting on the ascendancy of China,'stagflagration' in the West and the international-economics of now, you will be riveted.
Initially I wasn't sure this was fiction or nonfiction; but now I'm sure that the Asian buzz for TFY is deserved. TFY wraps concepts in human beliefs and drama.
Months ago I read UNDERSTANDING CHINA'S ECONOMIC INDICATORS by WSJ Correspondent Tom Orlik - Understanding China's Economic Indicators: Translating the Data into Investment Opportunities. It's mostly numbers, not for civilians like me; I hoped with TFY to see a broader, strategic and humanistic view. I sure got that, and alot more.
China's rise appears to have coincided with a period of unprecedented happiness throughout its boundaries. Social unrest is virtually non-existent and citizens have come to respect the governments domineering role in their lives. The atrocities of the past seemed to be erased from the collective memory of the people. Times couldn't be better.
Chan's story follows the story of Lao Chen and a small circle of friends as they struggle to revive China's lost month (a period that they believe to be marked both by unparalleled social unrest and tyrannical governmental enactment of martial law). Outside of Chen and his few politically concerned friends, no one seems able to recall any memory of the "lost month" or the events that imperiled the United States' role as a super power, thrusting China to the top. As they struggle to reach out to others who feel deceived by the government, they also find a preponderance of evidence that the Chinese government has found a means to suppress its citizen by changing the past... newspaper articles are modified to skew public perceptions and the internet is constantly under revision to suite the interest of the state.
Oddly The Fat Years isn't a fast paced thriller with car chases and attempts to squash the opposition voices of Chen and friends. Instead Chan moves methodically through the plot weaving in segments of Chinese culture into a storyline that is far too close to a political possibility for comfort. Chan does an absolutely incredible job of creating a politically viable explanation as to how China was able to capitalize on a second world-wide market crisis in order to wrest power from the West.
The description for The Fat Years draws parallels to Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and while that description certainly rings true, the storyline is much darker and nefarious than that envisioned by Huxley. In Chan's story, the government doesn't control its people for its own safety but for the furtherance of the government, which has become an ends in and of itself. Chan steps things up a notch with an unfolding of events that doesn't seem out of place within modern international politics. The Fat Years shows readers in the West a stark glimpse of what the beginning of the end may look.
Rather than a coherent story, this book reads as almost a series of position papers about China, Culture, Consumerism and Communism, and as much a criticism of China today, as the direction that China is going. That being said, it is still a fascinating read.