Oh Brother

Early in Yu Hua's novel Brothers, young Baldy Li sticks his head into a hole in a public toilet and hovers inches above the putrid waste below, all for a glimpse of naked female bottoms on the far side of the partition. For the next 600-plus pages of this satire of modern China, the reader is suspended in similar fashion — curious but teetering dangerously close to the muck.

The two-volume, best-selling Chinese edition of Brothers was published amid great fanfare in 2005 and 2006, and constituted the...

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