Brothers – Yu Hua

The BookDepository

Winner of France’s Prix Courrier International 2008, Shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize 2008

Translated from the Chinese by Eileen Cheng-yin Chow and Carlos Rojas

I bought this book after seeing a wonderful review written by Frances from Nonsuch Book on the Lost in Transtaltion Challenge site, and I was very pleased that this book was brought to my attention.

Brothers is an epic story of life in modern China. At over 600 pages it was a daunting book to read, and took me over 6 weeks to reach the end, but it was well worth the effort.

Baldy Li and Song Gang are step-brothers, living in poverty in a small Chinese town. The book follows them as they grow up together, striving to make the most of their lives and bring themselves out of the cycle of poverty. I loved Baldy Li’s character – his entrepreneurial spirit warmed my heart and I was rooting for him throughout. As with all great characters he exhibited some flaws – his childish obsession with looking at women’s bottoms was very strange for me to read about, but I think it accurately reflected the thoughts of a teenage boy and so I felt that I understood him more as a result.

This book had many strange moments and contained things that you would never find in a typical western novel. One of the most enjoyable aspects of reading books from other cultures, especially Asian ones – is that you never know what is going to happen next! I don’t want to say too much about the plot, as I don’t want to spoil anything, but Brothers has it all: tragedy, comedy and a touching, complex plot.

Baldy Li lay on the floor like a dead pig, then crawled and sat in the entrance like a sick dog. His hunger made him let out a few wails, but crying made him feel even hungrier, so he immediately stopped. Baldy Li could hear the sound of the wind blowing through the tree branches and could see the sunlight shining on his toes. He thought to himself, If I could munch the rays of sunlight like stir-fried pork and drink the wind like a bowl of meat broth, then I’d be set.

It is easy to read, but it’s length means that I would only recommend it to those who have already fallen in love with Asian literature and are looking for something with a bit more depth.


Note: This book isn’t for the prudish – it contained many sexually explicit scenes (including a very unusual section concentrating on hymens!) and some graphic violence.

I have never looked at the Man Asian Literary Prize 2008 before, but after the success of this book I am very intrigued.

Have you read any books shortlisted for this prize?

Do you love Asian literature?

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  1. Sandy says:

    I’ve not read much Asian literature, much to my sister’s dismay. I did sign up for the Japanese Literature Challenge with Bellezza though. I remember Frances talking about this book, and we love and trust Frances! Hmmm…maybe this could be your next “list project”!!!

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I’m worried that I might already be falling under the Man Asian Literary Prize spell – I’ve been eyeing up all the nominees. Will I be able to resist?!

  2. Steph says:

    Great review, Jackie. I haven’t actually read much (if any? That can’t be right… can it?) Asian literature at all, so I always find these reviews interesting. I don’t know if this is the right place for me to start given my lack of credentials (and general fear of long books), but maybe I’ll be able to work up to it!

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, No, I think this book would be a bad place to start. It wouldn’t be a very gentle introduction – there is weirdness from the first page! Have you tried any Murakami? I think his books are amazing and they are probably much better books to try.

  3. WordLily says:

    I’m a definite lover of Asian literature (Chinese in particular).

    1. Jackie says:

      WordLily, I love Asian literature, although I think I prefer Japanese to Chinese. Both are great though!

  4. Simon S says:

    Oh how interesting, this book sounds really, really good. I hadn’t heard of it until now. I do love Asian literature and so this could very much be up my street.

    Sorry about the random email earlier, I had real problems getting on your site. First it vanished, then it was selling Chinchilla cages and then it went back to normal!

    1. Jackie says:


      This is an interesting book – great for any fans of Chinese literature.

      Sorry about the site problems – my husband was playing with the chinchilla site and accidently redirected my site to the chinchilla site. I didn’t realise he’d done it until I tried to get onto the site in the morning. We fixed it as soon as I noticed, but there were 12 hours of chinchillas. He’s in the naughty corner now!

  5. I can’t actually remember reading any Chinese literature, although I have done Indian, and Japanese. This does sound intriguing, but, I’m not completely convinced!! Might have something to do with having 3-4 other 500+ page books in hand at the moment, and the fact that a book took 6 weeks to finish scares the living daylights out of me!!!

    1. Jackie says:

      anothercookiecrumbles, I have to admit I didn’t realise it was that long when I ordered it from the Internet and was very daunted when I opened it up! I’d say it was a similar length to Byatt’s The Children’s Book. I did read other things during the six week period, but this did take up quite a lot of time!

      I am going through my chunksters at the moment – I thought I’d make the most of BBAW week (no review posts) and get through a few long ones. Perdido Street Station is 900+ pages and Poisonwood Bible isn’t short either. These books are all worth the effort though. I hope you manage to get through a few of your long books. If you haven’t read any chinese literature before then this probably isn’t a good place to start anyway. Don’t be scared of it though – it is good!

  6. Mel U says:

    Thank you for your review of this. I have seen this book in the stores for a while and have been wonder if I should buy it-I will now-I am really getting into Asian Literature now after 50 years of purely Eurocentric reading.

  7. mee says:

    That’s a very powerful passage you shared. I might check out this book for the China Challenge. But the thickness does put me off a bit.


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