Thursday, May 28, 2020

Yu Hua's "To Live": Book Review

To Live 活着 by Yu Hua 余华 (Penerjemah Bahasa Indonesia: Agustinus Wibowo) | Agustinus Wibowo
I saw this film version when it was released in 1994. I remember many urban scenes with a family dealing with (understatement) the Cultural Revolution. I reckon Zhong Yimou and crew had to dramatize many scenes, for reading Michael Berry's translation, a spare, poised, and fluid novel turns out as the source material. It spans the period after the Japanese defeat, when the Nationalists arrive in young Fugui's village to conscript him into a doomed army. Their defeat after being encircled by the "Liberation" forces and their slow extermination are depicted movingly, harrowingly and bluntly

Once Fugui and the few remnants of the Nationalists are captured, they are offered to stay in the PLA or to take a safe passage and money to return home. Fugui cannot trust them, but it's true. When his comrades get sustenance, they get the buns stuck in their dry throats. "They lifted their heads and stared at the sky without moving." (78) This shows the tone of this novel, which never breaks style.

Most of the novel is told by Fugui to a young man closer to our own time, who intersperses in italics his own reminiscences. Unlike most older folks, who "simply dismiss the past with an awkward smile," Fugui does not talk in fragments or unrelated bits: "One or two sentences is enough to express everything they stand for." (44) The title works, for this modest depiction of four decades ending the twentieth century in China captures the straightforward recounting of events. They happen, but often as if those who must undergo Mao's Great Famine or the Cultural Revolution's terror find these horrors stacked on their already parched and straitened existence. Survival becomes their imperative.
(Amazon US 11/10/97; I like this Indonesian cover much more than the oddly staid U.S. paperback)

No comments: