Lenin’s Kisses by Yan Lianke, translated by Carlos Rojas [in Library Journal]
Welcome to Liven, a mountainous haven populated by the disabled who enjoy bountiful lives, so remote as to have avoided governmental controls since its legendary Ming dynasty founding. Liven – from a local word meaning “enjoyment, happiness, and passion” – joins the “new society” after an injured Mao Zhi, the Red Army’s youngest female soldier, settles there and becomes the de facto village leader. Half a century later, Liven’s citizens play a pivotal role in a county official’s ludicrous scheme to buy Lenin’s embalmed remains from Russia, and re-entomb them in a tourist-destination mausoleum of magnificent proportions.
Reading this work requires physical participation of turning sections back and forth (e-reader not recommended) as Yan presents his nonlinear, multi-layered narrative in books, chapters, and essential endnotes – using only odd numbers. Notes Rojas: “[T]he work’s discontinuous numbering expresses the tragic sentiment of the novel as a whole (since in China odd numbers are considered inauspicious).”
Verdict: Sprawling, comical, and calamitous, Kisses is not for the faint-hearted (humanity rarely fares well in Yan’s fiction) or the impatient. Diligent readers will be richly rewarded.
Published: 2012 (United States)