“The Seventh Day” by Yu Hua

knopfdoubleday.com

knopfdoubleday.com

Hua’s fifth novel is fantastic in both senses of the word, but provides a sharp look at the vagaries of contemporary China. Its narrator, Yang Fei, finds himself deceased after a restaurant fire. Lacking money for a burial plot, the 41-year-old resident of Beijing wanders the land of the unburied in search of his adoptive father. There, he meets others who either lack the means for a plot or are putting off their eternal rest, including a couple killed when their apartment was demolished; his ex-wife, a businesswoman who slit her wrists while under investigation for fraud; and 27 fetuses and babies who were classified as medical waste and dumped in a river. Through the stories of the unburied, Hua deftly portrays the love and turbulence of relationships in which people have little but each other, and the inequality (even in death) between the beneficiaries of China’s economic rise and those it has missed or trod underfoot. Such inequality is made strikingly clear when Yang visits the crematorium between life and death, where VIPs get comfortable armchairs while commoners are consigned to plastic chairs: “Whereas the VIP section was focused on the relative expense of the crematees’ garments and urns, among the plastic chairs the focus was more on who got the best value for the money.”

–Published January 13th by Pantheon Press. Translated from the Chinese by Allan H. Barr. 213 pages. $25

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