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Cries in the Drizzle by Yu Hua

C hina is often viewed with anxiety and uncertainty, particularly in a world with one superpower. The physical and cultural divide between China and the US can mask experiences which are common to each society. Today, a growing tension exists in China between a burgeoning individualism and an entrenched entitlement insisted upon by the state. In Cries in the Drizzle, Yu Hua explores this tension during the time of the Cultural Revolution. The result is a charming novel that is poignant, comical and universal.

Cries is the story of Sun Guangling, a young boy who lives in the village of Southgate with his parents, brothers and grandfather. For reasons which are unclear, he is considered a degenerate and an embarrassment by his family. The final straw is his failure to help his brothers resolve a neighborhood dispute via the diplomacy of a kitchen cleaver and a sickle. His shamed parents give him away to a childless couple from town, a military man and his eccentric, shut-in wife. Five years, one suicide, and one abandonment later, the orphaned Sun Guangling returns to Southgate at the very moment his family’s house is burning to the ground. This synchronicity cements their belief that the boy is the cause of all their troubles.

Cries is not a linear narrative but a starburst of vignettes, shining brightest when illuminating the dozens of characters who populate its pages. There is beauty and pathos in the widow whose promiscuity brings both pleasure and pain; in the clumsy collision of adolescent male fantasy and authentic female sexuality; in the awkward, love/hate dynamic between father and son, between brother and brother. With Cries in the Drizzle, Yu Hua weighs the worst in people against the best without tipping the scales, guiding us through the miraculous intricacies of the human panorama.