What’s a couple to do when they're expecting their second child in China? Simple. Divorce and get remarried to avoid the one-child policy.
But nothing is as simple as it seems in this wickedly subtle satire by acclaimed Chinese writer Liu (Cellphone, 2011, etc.). After the divorce, protagonist Li Xuelian’s husband, Qin Yuhe, marries someone else. Enraged, Li Xuelian goes to court to have the divorce declared a sham. Throw in a lovelorn chef and a cast of judges and politicians who run the gamut from bumbling to suave, and you get a piercing examination of the intersection of politics and human nature that loops from villagers to the bigwigs of Beijing. Liu writes with a colloquial voice reminiscent of old men gossiping, which adds an absurd twist to his keen dissections—he compares politicians vying for a promotion to “three dozen monkeys fighting over a single grape.” Yet his explorations of his characters’ motives are so finely detailed they border on the compassionate. His moments of tragedy are punctuated by comedy, his comedy underscored by tragedy. By the end, it’s hard to know who exactly is being skewered: the government, which is more victim than villain, or ordinary citizens whose kooky brilliance elevates them into politicians fighting for grapes in their own rights.
Either way, Liu has written a masterful tale that will make you laugh even as you despair. His words are simple but they will linger in your memory long after you have finished.