A review of Chan Koonchung’s The Fat Years
“TRUTH IS NOT AN OPTION…. Beijing, sometime in the near future: a month has gone missing from official records. No one has any memory of it, and no one can care less. Except for a small circle of friends, who will stop at nothing to get to the bottom of the sinister cheerfulness and amnesia that has possessed the Chinese nation.
When they kidnap a high-ranking official and force him to reveal all, what they learn – not only about their leaders, but also about their own people – stuns them to the core. It is a message that will rock the world…. Terrifying methods of cunning, deception, and terror are unveiled by the truth-seekers in this thriller-expose of the Communist Party’s stranglehold on China today.“
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Really interesting look at Chinese politics through an apparently rather light veil of fiction. It’s hard to know where fact ends and fiction begins (and vice versa) in this story. That’s due in part to my little knowledge about China, but also due in part to the fact that so much of what happens seems (at least from an outsider’s perspective) viable! And, from the sounds of it, many Chinese people also seem to agree.
I found that I could better appreciate the first part of the novel after the characters’ roles were explained. As a story, it was…not bad. It was interesting to see how the characters’ lives intersected here and there, and to see how their lives/society were. But it was not that memorable either…which, I suppose is stylistically similar to Orwell’s novel, 1989, (though the world better resembles Brave New World in many ways and this similarity is pointed at in the novel itself at one point).
The epilogue onwards was a much more straightforward discussion of Chinese politics and was the best part of the book for me. I can’t help but feel I would have gotten even more out of this if I had a better understanding of Chinese politics before coming to the novel (so I might be better equipped to separate fact from fiction and to notice more), but I didn’t feel particularly “out of my depth” in reading the book with no prior knowledge about Chinese politics either.
I actually just picked this one out randomly from my library’s audiobook selection and searched it on Goodreads after having already checked it out from the library. Although I’ve seen this book put on “sci-fi” shelves, its sci-fi elements are so slight as to not really bare mentioning. Make no mistake, this is a political novel. And it is worth the read.
David Tse does a great job at narrating the story and this book was a good one to audiobook instead of to read myself because otherwise I might have got mired down in the particulars or would have had to put it down too many times and lost track of things a little more.
(3 stars for the main story +1 extra star for the epilogue alone—I am somewhat generous to books that teach me something though..)
rating: ★★★★☆ (4 stars)
genre: political novel
publisher: Random House Audiobooks
date read: 6 April 2016
recommend for: those interested in (world/asian/Chinese) politcs, dystopia lovers
pros: informative, engaging story, very interesting epilogue
cons: second half of the narrative is a little slow and meandering