Sunday, 17 March 2019

Empires of Dust by Jiang Zilong

Empires of Dust by Jiang Zilong
First published in Chinese as Peasant Empire in China in 2008. English language translation by Christopher Payne and Olivia Milburn published by Sinoist Books on the 11th March 2019.

2019 New Release Challenge read and one of my WorldReads from China

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When making coffins is the best business in town, what hope is there for tomorrow?

Amidst the maelstrom of Communist China's rocky beginnings, Guojiadian, a tiny hamlet situated on salty ground in the rural northeast where nothing grows, must forge a path through the turbulence - both physical and political - threatening to return the windswept village to the dust from which it emerged.

Amongst the long-suffering village inhabitants lives Guo Cunxian, a man of rare ability trapped in an era of limitations. His quest for a better future for him and his family pits him against the jealousy of his peers, the indifference of his superiors and even the seemingly cursed earth upon which he resides.

In a decades-long journey filled with frustration and false starts, they eventually rise to dizzy heights built upon foundations as stable as the dust beneath their feet and the mud walls which shelter them.

But will their sacrifices along this tortuous path be in vain…?

If I had realised quite how long a book Empires Of Dust was going to be, I probably would not have requested a review copy from NetGalley. Its 1256 pages equals about four of my usual sized reads and makes it the longest book I think I have ever read, beating my previous record, Iran: A Modern History, by a good 200 pages! Being unused to such epically proportioned epics did influence my enjoyment of Empires Of Dust so please bear this is mind as you read my review.

Jiang Zilong follows one man's life from the Great Leap Forward over a period of several decades, using his political, social and economic experiences to illustrate the massive changes that occurred in rural China during the second half of the twentieth century. The novel features a large cast of characters and I occasionally lost track of some of them, but generally Jiang does a good job of differentiating or at least dropping enough clues to aid successful identification. The story is told in two parts, the first of which has Guo Cunxian as our hero and the second of which unravels the darker side of his meteoric rise. Personally I could have done with the first half being significantly condensed as it did often seem to drag on somewhat. I was never tempted to actually stop reading though because I wanted to know how everything would turn out. Empires Of Dust gives fascinating insights into Chinese life during this period. Many issues are addressed, most of them directly related to the horrendous poverty endured by generations of villagers. I would recommend this novel to readers interested in Asian fiction and historical sagas, especially those who aren't intimidated by Big Books!

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Jiang Zilong / Historical fiction / Books from China

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