Dream of Ding Village by YAN Lianke

 

 

[Click the cover below to check it out! If you don’t see a book cover below it’s probably ad-blocker settings]

[You can pretty much tell from the cover that this book is going to be sad AF]

 

“A powerful look at the AIDS scandal in Henan Province during the 1990s, when many people became infected with HIV after selling their blood at private collection centers, the novel focuses on one family at the heart of the tragedy in a place called Ding Village.”
[Yep, sad AF]

 


 

So up front, for some reason my brain was like ‘Let’s take a break from some paranormal/kinda horror stuff and a pinch of grief’ and so I decided on a book that was instead not only emotionally devastating, but about some serious real-life horrors. Good job, me. -_-

This book is based on a true story that a lot of people outside of China [and possibly even younger generations don’t know about within the country] didn’t know happened. In the 90’s, after the AIDS epidemic had hit it’s peak in the US, it devastated a large majority of Eastern China. The government [under Mao at the time] was in a frenzy about having people donate blood and plasma, but let the control of such slip through the cracks and allowed ‘blood mongols’ or essentially blood-taking gang leaders to take over, in which they didn’t care about sanitization [and the villagers they pressured into selling blood were none the wiser of the dangers of that] and so needles and other transfusion tools were re-used repeatedly without being cleaned.

Because of that, the emergence of HIV/AIDS years later spread like wildfire, taking out entire villages at a time, thousands of people all dying in a short amount of time and most of which had no idea what was happening, and did little to try and stop spreading it.

In addition to the government doing little to ease the burden of the spread of HIV/AIDS in the country, the epidemic, of course, was attempted to be swept under the rug. Which is why this book was actually banned for awhile, and then when it was originally released it was heavily censored by the Chinese government. The author did multiple years of undercover anthropology work to study a village decimated by HIV/AIDS as the result of the unregulated blood selling that happened.

Before getting into more of the story of the book, despite that this is a dismal subject matter, I think that anyone reading this should look into the history that this is based on. Despite that it’s incredibly depressing, it’s one of those things in history that is constantly trying to be erased, but it shouldn’t be.

Moving on though, how the book is written is really… interesting? I guess that’s one way of putting in.

The entire book is written from the perspective of a dead child [Ding Quiang], who was poisoned/murdered because his father was a blood mongol/bloodhead and caused nearly the entire Ding village [Ding Village is a fictional name/village but it’s based on the one the author studied] to become infected and eventually die off.

This is both an interesting and weird to experience as the reader, because while it proves helpful to get a sort of ‘third party’ view of what’s going on in the village, it also gets into some weird details that is awkward coming from the viewpoint of a child, especially a dead one. [There’s a lot of sex scenes between a certain couple who are the the protagonist’s Aunt/Uncle – it gets real weird]

Quiang mostly focuses on his direct family members to observe from the grave during the village’s slow descent into death, and it’s mostly his grandfather [who he loves the most], Shuiyang.

Shuiyang was a teacher and everyone looked up to him in the village because of it. Because of this, it was also the reason why government officials went to him to try to get him to be the one to get the village to start selling their blood despite that he himself was disgusted by the idea of it. He never sold his own blood and in turn he never contracted HIV/AIDS. Unfortunately, multiple other members of his family did, in addition to the majority of the village.

Despite that he feels guilty for his [despite that he was pressured/threatened by the government] it’s his son Ding Hui [Quiang’s father] that is the real villain of the story besides the Chinese governement itself. He was the bloodhead/mongul that went and started a blood trade across Ding Village [and all surrounding villages] and used dirty needles. Despite all fingers pointed to him as everyone who sold their blood to him were dying, he didn’t bat an eye.

Hui is like, epic sociopath levels of evil in this damned book. Not really spoilers since it smacks you in the face with it up front, but not only did he start the spread of illegal blood selling that leads to the outbreak, but he also steals government-provided coffins meant for the people dying of the infection and sells them to make money for himself, and then gets even more shady/money hungry and starts digging up the dead for ‘ghost marriages’ [when corpses are married to each other so that they won’t be alone in the afterlife], including people from Ding Village that died because of his own doing.

Plus, you know, his own son was poisoned/murdered as a way to get back to him and try to get him stop being an asshole, and his own brother contracts HIV/AIDS and dies, and instead he turns around and becomes even more of an asshole because all he cares about his money.

This understandbly upsets and shames Shuiyang so he does what he can to try and take care of the dying remaining members of the village, all the while battling his shitbag of a son and wondering if he should have killed him years ago when he first wanted to, [The answer is yes], as well as trying to quiet the cries of the villagers wanting their revenge.

More of the fiction side of the book takes place between squabbles between villagers and family members, though some of those are written in fact with different names, and just embellished for the story.

Without ruining a lot of the actual story, it’s an interesting read to see how people deal with their impending death, so to speak. The story also doesn’t hold back when it comes to the descriptions of death. If you’ve never actually seen someone who has wasted away to the point of a living corpse from HIV/AIDS, the book describes it in vivid detail for you. From people who died slowly to people killing themselves to avoid further suffering, the book, as should be expected, is as full of death as the times it was written about.

The book is very well written, the author going out of his way when he could to give moments of beautiful descriptions of nature to break up the constant ‘everyone is dying’ emphasis of the book.

I’d say my only annoyances of the book is that there are long stretches of pages that are dreamscapes [dreams are very important in the book, as the title hints at] that are written in italicized font, and while I understood wanting to make a distinction between real life and dreaming, it got pretty annoying in some cases, and was still hard to decipher between when the dream had ended and where the story was picking back up again. Especially since a lot of the dreams that happen in the book are prophetic in nature.

Also as lightly mentioned before, there’s parts between an Uncle and an Aunt of Quiang that go weirdly graphic in their relationship with each other [it starts off super drama-filled], both in their sex lives, both being infected, and also wanting to call each other mommy/daddy. It gets… real weird. Like a few times where it makes you feel like you shouldn’t be reading this in public-level weird, especially so since it’s coming from the view of their [dead] 12 year old nephew?

Just… weird. Good, but weird. Also you may have to stop reading the book every so often for cute kitten video breaks. It helps.

 


 

I give Dream of Ding Village 4/5 Bags of Blood

Rating:

“Death had become so commonplace, such an everyday event, that people couldn’t be bothered to go around pasting up funeral scrolls, buying fancy caskets, or planning elaborate funerals. Some people stopped going to funerals altogether. When a person died, it was like turning out a light. Like extinguishing a lamp, or watching a leaf drop from a tree in Autumn.”

 

 

 

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