Inspired by real-life horrors, the allegorical tale of a poor village and a divided family destroyed by blood profiteering in eastern China during the early days of AIDS.
Ding Village, a town of 800 people located in the Henan province, finds a quick fix to its dire needs in the form of a plasma-selling scheme promoted by county officials. Money flows the way the Yellow River once did before changing course and leaving the village parched. But exposed to dirty syringes and tainted cotton, and eager to give blood more frequently than their bodies can tolerate, townspeople in increasing numbers come down with "the fever" and face certain death. Told from the grave by a 12-year-old boy whose grandfather is the deposed town leader and conscience, and whose father buys blood and resells it for a profit, the novel details the contamination of the town's moral as well as physical being. When the blood money tapers off, profiteers sell government-issued coffins to a select clientele, leaving villagers chopping down trees and taking apart the schoolhouse. The spirit of capitalism runs amok in the exhuming of dead little girls for "marriages" to dead little boys. Without raising his authorial voice and only gently indulging in satire, Yan Lianke (Serve the People!, 2007) conveys a sense of outrage at a bureaucracy that is so hungry for expansion that it is willing to sacrifice innocent lives to attain it. At the same time, the book draws sympathy to its flawed victims, including an infected couple whose adulterous affair "recaptured what it meant to be alive."
A sorrowful but captivating novel about the price of progress in modern China. The book, which was censored in that country, builds to an act of violence that resonates with the impact of Greek tragedy or Shakespearean drama.