A Chinese Everyman’s progress from self-indulgent irresponsibility to resignation and the beginning of wisdom is briskly in a 1993 novel known in other parts of the world as the source of the highly successful film.
Yu Hua’s elderly narrator Xu Fugui relates to a passing “city boy” the story of how he gambled away his family’s fortune, endured the post-WWII years (as both military prisoner and soldier), struggled through the early period of Mao’s Cultural Revolution and the economic debacle of the Chairman’s 1958 “Great Leap Forward”—and lived to bury all those he had grown to love and work alongside, and transfer his affection to the aging ox with which he ploughs his shrunken patch of land. It’s a strong conception, but Berry’s translation is marred by infelicitous phrasing (perhaps the author’s), shapeless sentences, vacuous rhetorical questions (e.g., “Who could have known that . . .” and variations thereof recur) and fragments of American-inflected slang (e.g., “No way”). Yu Hua is an internationally celebrated author, but this English version of his work doesn’t tell us why.