Yu Hua, To Live (1993), 250p.
Yu Hua “once heard an American folk song entitled ‘Old Black Joe,’ a song about an elderly black slave who experienced a life’s worth of hardships, including the passing of his entire family, yet he still looked upon the world with eyes of kindness, offering not the slightest complaint.” Hearing the folk song ‘Old Black Joe’ became the inspiration for ‘To Live’, in which an elderly Chinese man, Fugui, has passed a life of hardship including losing his entire family. Central to the story is also a wisdom by the grandfather of Fugui: the chicken becomes a goose, the goose becomes a lamb, the lamb grows up to become a sheep, the sheep becomes an ox. After the ox, there is communism.
It is really hard to read the book and determine if it is about the indestructible hope of man or if it is about the inevitable suffering of man. One certainty exists, life is beckoning death. “As the black night descended from the heavens, I knew that in the blink of an eye I would witness the death of the sunset. I saw the exposed and firm chest of the vast earth; its pose was one of calling, of beckoning. And just as a mother beckons her children, so the earth beckoned the coming of night.” One of the saddest books ever written, and yet anyone will find a moment of happiness. “In the end, it turned out all for the best.”