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Heart Sutra

Translated by Carlos Rojas

The Heart Sutra is the most mysterious scripture in Chinese Buddhism. In Yan Lianke’s new novel, disciples of China’s five main religions—Buddhism, Daoism, Protestantism, Catholicism and Islam—gather for a year at the Religious Training Centre of Beijing’s National Politics University. They live together, study together, exercise together in the blazing sun, and get caught up in financial and sexual shenanigans.

Heart Sutra explores the complex relations between humans and gods, between the secular and the divine, and between genders. The youngest Daoist monk and the youngest Buddhist nun fall in love. But as their faith is tested, will they stay committed to the path of a holy life? The choices they make are confronting, because nothing less than the fate of the gods is at stake.

Illustrated with beautiful woodcuts, animated by an incisive sense of humour, and inhabited by an unforgettable cast of mortals and deities, Heart Sutra is a stunning addition to Yan Lianke’s oeuvre, which highlights the best and worst in humankind.


95bFM: Loose Reads    
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)    
Readings: A spotlight on translated fiction    
RNZ: Nine to Noon     

Yan Lianke
About the Author

Yan Lianke is the author of the memoir Three Brothers and numerous novels and novellas, including Hard Like Water, The Day the Sun Died, The Explosion Chronicles, The Four Books, Lenin’s Kisses, Serve the People!, Dream of Ding Village, and The Years, Months, Days. He was awarded the Newman Prize for Chinese Literature and the Franz Kafka Prize,...

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About the Translator

Carlos Rojas has translated seven books by Yan Lianke.

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Text publication date:
14 March 2023
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Praise for Yan Lianke
andHeart Sutra

‘One of those rare geniuses who finds in the peculiar absurdities of his own culture the absurdities that infect all cultures.’

‘Yan Lianke speaks to the agitation and absurdity of human existence, and the unquenchable need to believe in a cause greater than ourselves.’

‘Picaresque, but with serious matters of faith, love, and political wrangling at its fast-beating heart.’

‘Intriguing satire…[Yan Lianke’s] barbs against organised religion frequently hit their targets…[T]here is plenty to admire.’

Heart Sutra is a warm-hearted, if not gentle, satire that skewers religious institutions without mocking faith itself…by its end, it has moved through absurdity, darkness, and body horror into a strange and flickering form of hope…a deeply satisfying read…Yan’s storytelling has a luminous, irrepressible quality…in its darkness, it shines.’

‘Extremely intriguing…Glimpses of early Salman Rushdie.’

‘In the realm of Olga Tokarczuk…There are a lot of things that I really love about this book.’

‘Complex and multi-layered; simultaneously a love story, a commentary on contemporary China, and a satire…Lianke’s writing is lush, surreal, and not afraid to laugh at the absurdity of existence. He excels in creating a highly sensual world in which weather, food, and surroundings have a life of their own and divine beings may appear at any moment.’

‘Picaresque, but with serious matters of faith, love, and political wrangling at its fast-beating heart.’

Other editions ofHeart Sutra
  • Heart Sutra
    ISBN: 9781922791368
    14 March 2023
    Buy ebook