Dream of Ding Village
by Yan Lianke
This novel has been banned in the author’s native China. Yan Lianke is from Henan Province, the site of a devastating HIV outbreak during the 1990s after rural villagers were encouraged to sell blood at newly-established collection facilities. Improper practices led to widespread infection and to many children being born with HIV. In this novel, HIV (called “the fever”) spreads with the greed and materialism that Yan sees as the prevailing ethic of contemporary China.
Narrated by a dead child, the novel gives us the hero and villain of the novel in Grandpa and Dad. Dad has been a “bloodhead,” used poor collection practices, and made enough money to build a three-story house. As the novel continues, he manages to become something of an AIDS bureaucrat, stealing and reselling goods intended for those who are ill, in order to realize his dream of leaving his small village and moving to the provincial capital. Grandpa, who begs his son to make a formal apology to the village, represents a different set of values. He sets up a commune for people with HIV in the local school. His compassionate leadership succeeds for a time, but ultimately loses out to the pettiness and greed of even the ill villagers. While Yan takes even many unfortunate characters to task, he injects a humane side to the work, particularly in the depiction of a couple who meet at the school: Uncle and Lingling, infected and rejected by their own spouses, find each other and a bit of happiness before they die.
Yan is a well-known novelist and this is an accomplished work that is briskly and expertly plotted. The tone is satirical, but Yan retains an ethical and humane core that embraces the reader.
Nancy Ellegate is a sometime book reviewer for A&U.