sometimes witty book reviews
This book is supremely chilling.
Before AIDS was known to exist, the Chinese local governments set about starting a blood-bank trade in the provinces. Anyone with a needle, some tubing and a collection bag could take blood. Young people would often give blood up to once every ten days. The industry was an unregulated and corruption rife. Blood money was big for sellers and buyers and swabs and needles were seen by many as reusable items. Almost overnight small, mud hut villages were filled with expensive three story brick houses.
Throughout the village, blood-filled plastic tubing hung like vines, and bottles of plasma like plump red grapes.
Yan’s prose is frank yet still poetic which makes for eerie and often queasy descriptions. Shockingly, this story is based on real research gathered by Yan over his three years as an anthropologist’s assistant in China (where the book has been banned). The plot is centred around an elder of the Ding Village community, called simply ‘Grandpa,’ watching the younger generation die off one by one a decade after the blood boom. The bones of the dead child narrating the story were once his grandson.
The translation is a bit clunky and the use of metaphors extremely liberal for Western prose, yet Ding Village highlights excruciatingly well the ignorance and misunderstanding that surrounded AIDS during the epidemic of the late 80s.
Not to be read on swaying public transport or just before an appointment with a medical practitioner (trust me, I know).