Friday, October 18, 2013

Review : Chronicle of a Blood Merchant by Yu Hua

First published:-1995
Star rating:- 

I have anemia and irrespective of what comprises my daily diet or the amount I consume, my body's ability to manufacture blood and hemoglobin remains permanently stunted. Which is why I have no choice but to take iron supplements regularly and without fail. 
Once I suspend this routine for a few days, the dizziness, the lack of vigour returns to haunt me with a vengeance. 

So perhaps, it is a travesty of the highest order that I will now proceed to empathize with the protagonist's compulsion of selling his own blood away like a commodity to procure a few Yuan for his family's well-being. 
I am supposed to wax eloquent about how moving an account this is of the mishaps that befall a family, mainly due to the policies implemented by a cruel, unfeeling administration divorced from the needs of the common man.
I do know a thing or two about being bloodless but then I have no first-hand knowledge of suburban and rural poverty in China preceding and succeeding the years of the Cultural Revolution. Hence, I don't deserve to frame a few pompous sounding sentences in a review depicting the hardships of Xu Sanguan and his family and express commiseration. Because come what may, I'll never be able to experience what it feels like to be in his shoes. Even if my family falls on hard times, I'll promptly be shooed away from hospitals or laughed at if I ever did try and sell/donate my blood.

How can I understand destitution, sitting here inside an air-conditioned room typing away patronizingly at a desktop after having read a book on my kindle? I don't know the first thing about working on an empty stomach in a silk factory. Or being forced to savour a bowl of thin corn flour gruel laced with sugar like the finest gourmet dish in existence during a terrible famine. Or having to sell blood and, in turn, risk selling my life away in order for my family to get over a crisis. Or having my life's basic structure re-modelled according to the whims of a delusional autocrat.

But what I do perceive with shocking certainty is the giant, looming shadow of Chairman Mao's legacy of despotism and how deeply it affects the work of writers from this fascinating country. 
It is becoming increasingly hard to imagine coming across literature from and about China devoid of any mention of the Communist Party's history of corruption and the blunt indifference with which they stripped away a generation of people of their dignity as human beings, treating them almost like laboratory mice.

Xu Sanguan goes through life, fights his daily battles with various adversities without knowing the first thing about Communism, Socialism or Capitalism. He only wishes to provide for his family and survive, remaining largely clueless about the political upheavals in his own country or their significance in the greater scheme of things. Forget politics, he only identifies with the English letter 'O' as a circle which denotes his blood group. Such is the extent of his guileless ignorance.

He can only know what being in the throes of starvation feels like and what it is like to be in perpetual need of one thing or another. Concepts like subversion, revolution, agitation or questioning the legitimacy of a regime or higher authority are alien to him.
And yet innocuous as his existence is, ripples of political disturbances outside the realm of his comprehension bring turbulence into his own minuscule sphere of existence. He suffers and we suffer along with him.

Chronicle of a Blood Merchant showcases no instances of ostentatious wordsmithy or lucid erudition. Instead, Yu Hua often resorts to crude metaphors to bring to life the rustic simplicity of the backdrop against which the story unfolds. But what catapults this into the league of great literature is its endearing honesty and its attempt at remaining true to the spirit of an age and a nation caught in a painful phase of transformation. Sanguan's bloodlessness is rife with underlying implications. It is his steady depletion of vitality which symbolizes the silent misery of a generation.

And yet, this book stresses not so much on an anti-communist rhetoric as much as it directs its energies at narrating a tale of blood ties and a family's quest for survival in the face of all imaginable trials and tribulations. A family which couldn't care less about Mao remaining in power or Mao being deposed. 

Because to the Xu Sanguans of China, all meaning in life lies embedded in a crock full of bug-free rice and a few Yuan which can buy them the luxury of gorging on fried pork livers and gulping down a few shots of cheap yellow wine.


4 stars out of 5.
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