Review : Lenin’s Kisses by Yan Lianke

Categories 3 Literature

In the disabled persons’ village of Liven, Grandma Mao Zhi is the figure standing for natural local community rural living, unattached to wider national social structures, which she wants to leave. The word `liven’ is used to describe a fundamental enlivening process which reaches all aspects of life. Crucially it doesn’t depend on capability, and equally naturally fits disability. Lianke contrasts this natural state to alternative social structures of communism and commercialism, and finds them wanting. The general population is gullible and easily manipulated.

Mao Zhi has experienced the horrors of Mao Zedong’s China – the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, the denunciations, the famine, the smelting of all domestic iron and steel items. In Chief Liu’s schemes to make Liven a mega tourist attraction, she sees the equally derisory alternative of capitalist money making. Chief Liu’s initial scheme for a performing troupe of disabled people appears to work and starts to generate huge revenues and personal fortunes, until disaster strikes.

In the final reckoning, the community returns to its default natural state. Lianke’s critique of social systems, of imposed megalomaniac programmes, of human weaknesses of selfishness and violent tendencies, of prejudice towards those labelled `disabled’, is all very powerful. His critical weapon is farce which he deploys to very amusing and devastating effect.

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