Apocalyptic, eerie visions in two novellas by much-honored Chinese writer Yan (The Explosion Chronicles, 2016, etc.).
Imagine: in some near future, after Fukushima has finished pumping its tons of irradiated water into the Pacific, the incidence of hereditary disease skyrockets. So it is in the village where a woman named Fourth Wife You is working the unusually bountiful fields with her four “idiot children,” all born apparently normal and then fading into some sort of penumbra of consciousness, a world of their own that is probably happier than ours. The doctor is no help: “You have four children and all four are idiots,” he says. “You could have eight, and you’d have eight idiots.” Apparently other such diseases have sprouted up, for when a stranger comes into view in Yan’s meaningfully titled novella Marrow, he announces himself as a “wholer,” a touch worse for the wear but still all there. The cure that Fourth Wife You discovers is perhaps worse than the disease itself, as she warns her children from the grave with less a curse than a promise. In the title novella, which would do Friedrich Dürrenmatt proud, drought falls on an already suffering village, eventually driving all but one of the residents into flight. He reasons, “I’m seventy-two years old, and would surely die of exhaustion if I tried to walk for three days. If I’m going to die either way, I’d prefer to die in my own village.” It is up to this Robinson Crusoe to stave off catastrophes that come in the form of spectral wolves and plagues of rats; like Fourth Wife You, the old man—called, indeed, Elder—must sacrifice himself in order to satisfy the mad gods of nature in a world now “so peaceful you could even hear the bright sound of the sunrays knocking against one another and the moonbeams striking the ground.”
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.