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Translated by Carlos Rojas
Hard Like Water is a thrilling story about an erotic affair during China’s Cultural Revolution.
Returning to his hometown—and his wife—soldier Aijun sees a young woman, Hongmei, wandering barefoot along the railway tracks in the late-afternoon sun. From that moment on, Aijun and Hongmei spend their days and nights writing pamphlets and attending rallies: they are the engines of history. But soon their sexual and revolutionary fervour merge and a crazed new love explodes between them.
The party bosses are impressed by the ardour of the pair’s work. Emboldened, the couple build a ‘tunnel of love’—to further the revolution, of course, but also to connect their homes for their secret rendezvous. What will happen to their dreams of a life together?
Hard Like Water is an irresistible tale about sex and revolution, and a compelling drama about the nature of political power—by one of China’s greatest contemporary writers.
‘A master of imaginative satire. His work is animated by an affectionate loyalty to his peasant origins in the poverty-stricken province of Henan, and fierce anger over the political abuses of the regime.’
‘I can think of few better novelists than Yan, with his superlative gifts for storytelling and penetrating eye for truth.’
‘Yan Lianke is one of the best contemporary Chinese writers.’
‘An indefatigable tale of love, delusion and revolution. Yan Lianke speaks to the agitation and absurdity of human existence, and the unquenchable need to believe in a cause greater than ourselves.’
‘Yan’s great subject is false consciousness, the way we knowingly come to participate in a world that doesn’t resemble reality…Hard Like Water is a difficult but fascinating work, a novel in which the reader is constantly urged to measure the discrepancy between what’s being said and what’s happening…Yan’s challenge, to his samizdat readers in China and those beyond, is to look in the murky glass of ambition and self-deception and find the face that resembles their own.’
‘Yan lets us share the aphrodisiac high of revolutionary madness even as he skewers the tyranny of narcissism—and the narcissism of tyranny…“Everyone will be assessed and judged,” Aijun warns. Now, even in the west, that note of vengeful purity sounds again.’
‘It’s surreal, and amusing, biting and fun.’
‘An important book, if only because of its refreshingly sensual vision of the appeal of the Cultural Revolution…[I]n our era of heightened political tensions, with conservatives and progressives polarized, the experience of an ambitious Chinese revolutionary convinced of his correctness has much to tell us about ourselves.’
‘You might not think that China’s Cultural Revolution would be the typical setting for eroticism, but then again, this era of heightened tension is perfect for this kind of fever-pitched romance.’
‘A blistering tour de force…Carlos Rojas’s exceptional translation makes English feel new again. Yan’s linguistic daring, and the novel’s relentless stream of provocative images and observations, create a sensuous and riveting world… Hard Like Water is neither mockery nor satire; it is a sharp, desperately moving analysis of the logic of ideology. Its mashup of literary and political texts poses the uncomfortable and timely question: how did each of us arrive at our certainties?’