Saturday, 10 August 2019

Between Four Rivers by Wang Yu

Between Four Rivers by Wang Yu
First published in Chinese in China by the China Translation And Publishing House in 2010. English language translation by Hui Cooper and Dennis Cooper published by Sinoist Books on the 1st August 2019.

One of my 2019 New Release Challenge reads, a 2019 COYER Summer Hunt read, featured in Cover Characteristics: Women In White, 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

1694: Sichuan is empty, depopulated by war, famine and plague. When the emperor issues a decree asking citizens to re-settle this former land of abundance, Ning Xi takes up the call, vowing to find her father, Ning Degong, who vanished in Sichuan years ago. Beset by tigers, bandits, and a powerful old enemy, this courageous woman and her family must face countless dangers - including a new set of rivals, the influential Zhao clan - to build a new life in this wild land.

Between Four Rivers is the stunning multi-generational tale of two families linked by shocking twists of fate that leave their lives and the destiny of Sichuan changed forever.

This 660 page epic is set in a part of China, Sichuan, and a period of which I previously knew nothing so I was fascinated to learn more through Wang Yu's novel. I loved that Between Four Rivers is a very positive portrayal of the effects of immigration and the novel also has a strong matriarchal figure at its heart. Sichuan had been almost completely destroyed by decades of war with resultant famines and plagues, so the Emperor of the time sent a call across all of China for people from overpopulated regions to migrate. If one could survive the journey, free farming land was available for the taking. Thousands of families set out, one optimistic couple being Ning Xi and her husband, Chang Weihan.

Nothing in Ning Xi's life is plain sailing and she must contend with bandits abducting her children, her husband disappearing, her absent father's reputation, and no end of squabbles with the Aunt on the next door farm. Extended family is frequently a blessing, and even more frequently a curse, yet through everything, Ning Xi sticks resolutely to her plans. Wang Yu doesn't his readers much in the way of characterisation so it took me most of the novel before I felt I could really understand this determined woman. This is by no means a typical 'abandoned single mother' story!

In common with Empires Of Dust by Jiang Zilong, I did struggle to keep track of the numerous cast - especially those who vanish for years and then reappear under a different name! I could also have done with less telling and more showing. Wang Yu's pacing and lack of detail for events such as fight scenes took a bit of getting used to, as did his stories-within-stories approach when telling us about new characters. I will admit I found Between Four Rivers a bit of a slog at times but ultimately, I think, a worthwhile read.

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  1. When it comes to epic novels, I feel like pacing often becomes an issue. But I am glad that despite its length, you were able to enjoy learning about a period of time and circumstance that you didn't know about beforehand.

    1. The writing style was similar to another Chinese multi-generation epic I read so I wondered if this is a feature of Chinese literature?