- Hardcover: 336 pages
- Publisher: Nan A. Talese; 1st edition (Jan. 10 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385534345
- ISBN-13: 978-0385534345
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3.2 x 22.2 cm
- Shipping Weight: 522 g
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #423,693 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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
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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
The Fat Years is definitely a case of foreignization, and I think the bad reviews of this book don't really take into account that this was written in Chinese. Not only is there the strange rhythm and sound of Chinese echoing through the English, but Western readers are probably also unaccustomed to the foreign structure of a Chinese text.
I don't know much about Chinese narrative structure-all that I know is that it's different, very different, from our Western conception of a story. Despite the definite Western influences of this novel (mystery narrative, science-fiction), the novel feels as foreign as, I expect, visiting Beijing would.
Yes, it has a lot of exposition and not much action. Yes, the last part of the novel, the long speech by He Dongsheng, seems to go on forever and ever. But there's a pleasure in reading this-a pleasure of, somehow, listening to another tongue, another culture, and hearing it in English in your head.
The Fat Years is the story of Taiwan-born writer Lo Chen who, one day, sees an old female friend, an ex-judge and now career activist Little Xi, who doesn't seem to be as happy as he is. Because everyone in Beijing is very happy. She, and another old friend, tell him that there's a month missing in China: 28 days in 2011 that disappeared from collective memory, and that only a few of them can remember. Chen's doubts are aroused, and he seems to lose the happiness that he sees all around him. There begins a quest to find the missing month, among political intrigue, elite ultranationalist student shenanigans, underground Christian churches and, eventually, love. It's the conflict between choosing to live "in a counterfeit paradise or a real hell". Which one would you choose?
This is definitely a novel for the intellectual-minded. Koonchung presents a lot of political and economic analysis-either to educate the Western reader or to wake up the Chinese one, I'm not really sure. But, according to the translator, it's not that farfetched, except for a few details. If you know nothing about China, you'll be illuminated. If you know a little, or a lot, you'll probably find the point of view interesting.
The Fat Years asks a lot of difficult questions that even Westerners should grapple with. How much freedom do we really have? Is the government really working in our interest? Is democracy a political system doomed to failure because it cannot achieve anything "big"?
If you like non-stop action, stay away from this book. You'll get bored. However, if you enjoy a text that plays with high political stakes and isn't afraid to call a dog a dog, I strongly suggest you grab a copy.
I'm reading the translation. Without comparing to the original text, I can't say for sure where some of the clunkiness in the dialog comes from. Obviously it's not easy to translate Chinese idiom and mannerisms into English, but I didn't really feel it here.
The reveal is hinted at from a mile away and is actually much more minor than one is led to expect, which makes for a somewhat disappointing final act.