Yu Hua's beautiful, heartbreaking novel Cries in the Drizzle follows a young Chinese boy throughout his childhood and adolescence during the reign of Chairman Mao.
The middle son of three, Sun Guanglin is constantly neglected ignored by his parents and his younger and older brother. Sent away at age six to live with another family, he returns to his parents' house six years later on the same night that their home burns to the ground, making him even more a black sheep. Yet Sun Guanglin's status as an outcast, both at home and in his village, places him in a unique position to observe the changing nature of Chinese society, as social dynamics -- and his very own family -- are changed forever under Communist rule.
With its moving, thoughtful prose, Cries in the Drizzle is a stunning addition to the wide-ranging work of one of China's most distinguished contemporary writers.
In its first English translation, the debut novel by Yu Hua (author of the subsequent novels To Live and Chronicle of a Blood Merchant) depicts a family's life in the Zhejiang province of Maoist China during the 1970s. At both the core and outskirts of the family is narrator Sun Guanglin, a middle son who is given up for adoption and returns, five years later at age 12, after tragedy befalls his adoptive family. The narrative flits between time and space to create the landscape of Sun Guanglin's youth: his family's home burns down shortly after he returns, a local wedding takes on macabre overtones, a death in the family leads to ill-fated homespun opportunism and family loyalty is fleeting. As memories converge, the line between fantasy and reality blurs, leading Sun Guanglin to observe, Our lives after all, are not rooted in the soil as much as they are rooted in time.... Time pushes us forward or back, and alters our aspect. Though the fractured structure has its disjointed moments, Barr's translation perfectly captures the ebb and flow of a community on the brink of change. (Oct.)
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October 07, 2007
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Excerpt from Cries in the Drizzle by Yu Hua
Chapter 1 SOUTHGATE It was in 1965 that nighttime began to stir in me a nameless dread. I am thinking now of that evening when a light rain drifted down. In my bed I lay, a child so little you could have set me there as easily as a toy. The dripping from the eaves simply called attention to the silence that surrounded me, and the steady onset of sleep was but a gradual forgetting of the rain's patter. As I glided peacefully into slumber, it was as though a secluded path had appeared before me, opening a passage between trees and shrubs. Then from far away there came the sound of a woman's anguished wails. When those hoarse cries erupted so suddenly in the still of the night, the boy that I was then shivered and quaked. I can see myself now, a startled child, eyes wide with fear, the precise outline of my face obscured by the darkness. The woman's cries persisted. Anxiously, I expected to hear another voice, a voice that would respond to her wails, that could assuage her grief, but it never materialized. I realize now why I was gripped by such intense disquiet: it was because I waited in vain for that answering voice. Surely there is nothing more chilling than the sound of inconsolable cries on such a desolate night. A second memory comes hot on the heels of the first: three or four white lambs trotting across the grass by the riverside, a daytime image, a way of easing the agitation evoked by the previous memory. But I find it hard to decide just where I was when this sight left its mark on me. Several days may have passed before I seemed to hear a voice that answered the woman's cries. It was late afternoon. A storm had just passed, and dark clouds filled the sky like billows of smoke. I was sitting by the pond behind the house, and out of the damp landscape a man I did not recognize walked toward me. He was dressed completely in black and as he approached his dark clothes waved like a banner under the gloomy sky. When this image began to close in on me it brought to mind the unmistakable sound of the woman's cry. Even from far off in the distance the stranger fixed me with a piercing gaze, and he continued to stare at me as he drew nearer. Just as I was about to panic, he abruptly changed direction, mounted the path on the edge of the field, and gradually moved farther and farther away, his loose black clothes flapping loudly in the breeze. Now, when I look back on the past from an adult point of view, I always linger long on this particular moment, puzzling over why it was that I interpreted the rustling of his clothes as a response to the woman's cries in the evening drizzle. Then there is a morning I remember, a crystal-clear morning when I was scampering along behind some village boys, over soft earth and windblown grasses. The sunshine at that moment seemed to be a matter not so much of dazzling light as a warm color daubed on our bodies. Like the lambs on the riverbank we bounded along, running for ages, or so it seemed, until we arrived outside a dilapidated temple where several huge spiderwebs caught my eye. It must have been a little earlier that one of the village boys had come tramping over from a spot far off in the distance. I still remember that his face was drained of color and his teeth were chattering. "There's a dead man over there," he said. The body was lying beneath the spiderwebs. It was the same man who had walked toward me the day before. Although I try now to recapture my feelings at that moment, the effort fails. My memory of that incident has been stripped bare of the reactions I had at the time, and all that is left is the outer shell: the associations it now carries simply reflect my current outlook. For me as a six-year-old the sudden death of a strange man could have prompted only a quiver of astonishment and would not have been the occasion for much hand-wringing. He lay faceup on the moist earth, eyes closed, with a relaxed and