In this heartfelt memoir, Yan Lianke brings the reader into his boyhood home in Song County, Henan Province, painting a richly detailed portrait of rural China during the Cultural Revolution
It is a hard but loving childhood. Yan's family carve out a modest existence, though food is often so scarce they have to find edible bark and clay for sustenance. Working sixteen-hour shifts in a quarry, Yan's hands become as crooked as twigs, but the satisfaction of hard physical labour and earning money to support his family proves intoxicating. Reading novels is an escape for Yan, and he yearns to become a writer after hearing about a woman who was allowed to remain in the city of Harbin after publishing her first novel.
Caught between his obligations as a son and a brother, and his longing for a new life, Yan eventually joins the army. He returns years later to find his father's health rapidly deteriorating in the face of his desperate efforts to build a traditional tile-roofed house for each of his sons.
Chronicling the extraordinary lives of his father and two uncles, as well as his own, Three Brothers is a celebration of the power of one family to hold together in the most punishing of circumstances. Sharply alive to the cyclical nature of history, and the power of familial guilt, it also shows how the pen can be a route to freedom.