Brothers by Yu Hua

brothers-by-yu-huaWhat I loved about Brothers by Yu Hua is that within the pages of one book I found a story that made me laugh and cry over and over. The tale is both horrifyingly dark and twisted, but with seamless transition, Yu Hua writes some of the best comic scenes I’ve ever read. Life in America for the past eight years has made it possible to understand the absurdities about which Yu Hua writes, and for this reason, they are believable.

The story of Baldy Li, one of the most memorable characters I’ve encountered in fiction, and his brother, Song Gang, opens right before Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Scenes in which neighbors are unified in a common cause or belief and turned into enemies the very next day are chillingly similar to what is happening in the world today. When Yu Hua writes about Li Lan’s, Baldy Li’s, and Song Gang’s grief over the death of Song Fanping, I thought my heart would rip in two so great was their anguish.

The two definitions of stupidity (knowing the truth, seeing the truth, but still believing the lies, and doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result) often came to mind while I read Brothers. I’m watching the premise of the story take place right in front of my eyes as the youth of America believe they can make certain political systems work in their generation even though overwhelming evidence of failure exists in other countries. I have to wonder if they’ve forgotten the past or are purposely not being taught. In either case, we’ll all be doomed for it.

The story is engaging based on the time period and cultural differences. Yet the prose is so simple that I have to wonder if this is due to the translation from Chinese to English or if the author chose to keep his words plain. In either case, his writing style works. Another thing I noticed while reading this translation was the repetitive nature of the writing. I’ve only encountered this in one other translation, Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, and I wonder if this is a style particular to Asian writers. I find it lends emphasis to details and storylines.

Yu Hua broke the rules of writing brilliantly by not following plotting formulas. Two ways in which he did this was by the introduction of a new character and storylines in the last one third of the book. Not surprisingly, the pacing of the novel was not interrupted, and as a reader I wasn’t jarred out of the book. Obviously, Yu Hua writes for intelligent readers, and in this way, it reminded me of Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo with its large cast of characters, interwoven storylines, and backstory. In both cases, readers willing to stay with the book to the end will absolutely not be disappointed.

I know the book was written as a criticism on political systems and to show all the evil and craziness that stems from them. I found my interest focused on the relationships of the characters enduring life under the various political systems and how their relationships were further affected by their personalities which dictated how they reacted to circumstances and each other.  I came to the conclusion that all one can probably do in such a situation is be kind, work hard, and do no harm.

Despite the depth of the tale Brothers presented, as I said there were some hilarious moments including a chicken search party, Yanker Brand underwear, and actual blind men drawing blind conclusions. But again, that’s part of Yu Hua’s ability to make a reader laugh while getting his point across. The best line though was probably Yanker Yu explaining politics to Popsicle Wang when he said, “…comfortable circumstances breed freethinking, which is why the rich love politics.” I laughed aloud as I shuddered thinking how stirred up the politicians are keeping the world.

Understanding Prudence

Joan CrawfordI devoted chapter seven of my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, to developing the character of Prudence Welles Mayfield. Unfortunately, her interesting backstory didn’t move the rest of the plot forward. I struggled with cutting what became known as Chapter Prudence because I really like her, and the writing was good. In the end, I discarded it in favor of keeping the story focused on my protagonist alone.

The following account details Prudence as a child and young woman. There are a few references to things that occur later in my novel, tidbits that I dealt with in others ways upon removal of this chapter, but nothing so confusing that you won’t be able to understand what’s going on.

Although her backstory went by the wayside, Prudence herself did not. She is very much an influential presence in the life of the nephew, John Welles. I hope reading about her youthful adventures, and the following character sketch, give you a better perspective into the personality of Prudence.

Chapter Prudence

You believe you already know Prudence; she’s the stunning woman with an expensive, tailored wardrobe you would give your eye teeth to own. You would probably label her an arm ornament until she opens her mouth, and you realize an intelligent, well-spoken woman resides in the beautiful package. Suddenly, you want her as your friend.

You will find Prudence with drink in hand at the center of every social engagement, commanding her audience with a stellar personality, smoking long before it was fashionable for women to do so. She’s a lady to the core, despite what society may think about her, and would sooner burn her shoe collection than be caught drunk in public.

Don’t be fooled by Prudence, though. The petit woman isn’t afraid to speak her mind and can back down the most assertive man. Other women, especially those vying for a place in her beloved nephew’s life, are her particular kryptonite.

From the outside, it looks as if Prudence has a charmed life. She has plenty of money, secured by a good head for business, so she and John want for nothing. Her life is full of quality items from the home she lives in, the car she drives, the vacations she takes. Yet closer inspection would reveal sadness in Prudence kept hidden from the world. Her care of John, while altruistic on the surface, also services to satisfy her need for penance and motherhood.

Still, she isn’t the type to sit around mourning an unfortunate circumstance. She is proactive in her own restless life and will seek satisfaction until she has secured it instead of waiting around for a man to provide it.Coco Chanel, French couturier. Paris, 1936 LIP-283

For all her forthrightness, Prudence can still be wounded at heart. As much as she loves John, it is he who most often draws the line on her outrageous behavior especially in regards to her creative honesty. She’ll never let on that she feels the sting of his rebuke, and if pressed, Prudence would admit that her nephew is a positive influence in her life.

The pictures of Joan Crawford and Coco Chanel capture the essence of Prudence as I envisioned her.

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