The Fat Years
By Koonchung Chan
(Nan A. Talese, Hardcover, 9780385534345, 336pp.)
Publication Date: January 10, 2012
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Banned in China, this controversial and politically charged novel tells the story of the search for an entire month erased from official Chinese history.
Beijing, sometime in the near future: a month has gone missing from official records. No one has any memory of it, and no one could 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 have 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 astound the world.
A kind of Brave New World reflecting the China of our times, The Fat Years is a complex novel of ideas that reveals all too chillingly the machinations of the postmodern totalitarian state, and sets in sharp relief the importance of remembering the past to protect the future.
CHAN KOONCHUNG is a novelist, journalist, and screenwriter. Born in Shanghai and raised and educated in Hong Kong, he studied at the University of Hong Kong and Boston University. He has published more than a dozen Chinese-language books and in 1976 founded the monthly magazine City in Hong Kong, of which he was the chief editor and then publisher for twenty-three years. He has been a producer on more than thirteen films. Chan Koonchung now lives in Beijing.
“Smart, incendiary . . . Although The Fat Years clearly owes a debt to Brave New World, Chan's characters are infinitely more believable, and drawn with a real sense of sympathy and understanding — something Huxley's archetypes famously lacked. As for plausibility, The Fat Years is almost too believable . . . An urgent clarion call for people in every country to treasure their individuality.”
"Chan has crafted a cunning caricature of modern China, with its friction between communism and consumerism, its desire to reframe the Revolution in terms of 'market share and the next big thing.' But he has also identified a deeper dislocation, one stretching from China to the world."
—Los Angeles Times
"With its offbeat puzzle and diverting characters, The Fat Years is not only absorbing in its own right, it also shines reflected light on the foibles of the West."
—The New York Times Book Review
"Inventive and highly topical."
—The Wall Street Journal
"A fascinating tale of China just over the horizon."
—The New Yorker
"Part political thriller, part dystopian nightmare . . . Chan reveals the moral and political perils of contemporary Chinese life."
"Eerily prescient. . . A gripping, if not terrifying, treatise on the rise of China, present and future."
"Possibly the most audacious book to have been published by a Chinese author not living in exile since Lu Xun excoriated the atrophied Confucianism of the early 20th century. . . . This novel isn’t only essential reading, it is also urgent."
—The Globe and Mail
"In conjuring China’s very near future, Chan Koonchung has given us a bracingly honest portrait of the present. He captures all the flamboyant paradoxes of daily life in China on the cusp of empire, but is also awake to its submerged anxieties. His writing is steeped in humor and fantasy, but his project could not be more serious: The struggle over the soul of a nation."
—Evan Osnos, Beijing correspondent, The New Yorker
"What happens when 1.3 billion Chinese are all very happy? The Fat Years is suspenseful, hilarious, intelligent, and dark — a powerful novel. Anyone interested in learning about the current state and future of China should read this novel."
—Shu-mei Shih, University of California, Los Angeles
"It's no wonder that the insecure Chinese authorities have banned this book in China itself. It tells stunning truths that those authorities strive hard to keep under the rug, and it tells them with a literary flair worthy of Orwell. Chan Koonchung's novel is deeply disturbing, biting, weirdly funny, and, above, all, piercingly honest."
—Richard Bernstein, author of The Coming Conflict with China
"A thought-provoking novel about China's tomorrow, that reveals the truth about China today."
—Xinran, author of The Good Women of China
"With echoes of Kafka, Lu Xun and Orwell, The Fat Years limns a New China that few have imagined: a booming, post-revolutionary land where historical and political amnesia are rewarded by the right to wealth and a seductive but amputated ‘good life.’ More unsettling, Chan's novel suggests that the ‘China's model’ of high-speed growth may mean that, far from heading towards greater openness and democracy as we have long imagined, history may actually be headed towards a new kind of Leninist consumerism."
—Orville Schell, Director of the Center on US-China Relations at the Asia Society
"Rarely does a novel tell the truth about a society in a way that has the power to shift our perceptions about that place in a fundamental way, but Chan Koonchung’s The Fat Years does exactly that. A dystopic political fantasy, it provides a frighteningly accurate portrayal of a rising world superpower where few things are as they seem, and where critics who persist in speaking truth to power are ‘harmonized’ in the name of social stability and maintenance of Communist Party control. If you read only one book about China this year, make it this one — it tells you more about China than any work of non-fiction."
—Didi Kirsten Tatlow, China Columnist, International Herald Tribune and New York Times
"This dystopia masterfully captures the dilemma today's Chinese face: embrace economic growth or fight for justice. Chan delves into Beijing’s conscience and does not like what he sees."
—Isaac Stone Fish, Reporter, Newsweek/Daily Beast
"Chan’s compelling dystopian fantasy reveals the underbelly of today’s Rising China while holding up a challenging mirror to fellow Chinese and all thoughtful readers."
—Timothy Cheek, University of British Columbia, author of Living with Reform: China Since 1989
"The Fat Years is the best and most accessible account of the multiple faces of China’s public intellectuals and the complicated world of popular authoritarianism in which they live. A distinctive form of whimsical realism that makes for compelling reading."
—Paul Evans, Director of the Institute of Asian Research, University of British Columbia
"Bracing, smart and entertaining."
"Hardly a thriller in the conventional sense of the word but a lot more scary than most."
"The Fat Years presents a vivid, intelligent and disturbing picture of the world’s emerging super-power."