Collective Tragedy

Before turning to fiction in the early 1980s, Chinese writer Yu Hua toiled as a country dentist. So it's no surprise, perhaps, that his early works are as sadistic as a triple root canal. In The Past and the Punishments, a collection of Yu's short stories, a young girl is eviscerated by cannibals. Elsewhere in the anthology, a murderer is himself dissected by blasť organ harvesters. Yu meant to critique a Chinese society whose capacity for cruelty can still astonish, but even his avant-garde peers were a bit put off. "I can't imagine what kind of brutal tortures patients endured under...

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