Cover Image: Heart Sutra

Heart Sutra

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Member Reviews

The premise of this book sounded so interesting and unique, and I was so excited to read it. However, I just could not get into it, maybe the writing style just isn’t for me but I had such a hard time getting through it. In the end, I just could not care about the story or the characters. 

Thank you to Netgalley and Grove Atlantic for sending me an advanced copy.
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A “did not finish” for me. Perhaps it’s the list in translation issue, but the language here was clunky and the plot slow.
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Dnf. I tried to like it, but this book was definitely not my cup of tea. This must be one of the most boring things I’ve ever read. 

The book tells a love story of two young students of a college for all main religions in China; a Buddhist nun and a Daoist priest. It sounds very interesting and maybe the story is not even that bad, but the emotionless, detached writing makes going through this book a real chore. 

I think the writing was supposed to be funny in a dry, satirical way but sadly it didn’t work. This book could use some life because it reads like a police report. Maybe the translation is the problem? I’ve seen plenty of great books ruined by poor translation. Or maybe it’s supposed to be that way but I am just completely missing the point? Maybe I’m missing the cultural context needed to understand it? 

There is no flow whatsoever and every single scene is dragging. To give you an idea, there’s a scene describing one of the main characters having a bowl of soup. She is having the soup for Over. Five. Long. Pages.😴

I really couldn’t care less… 

Thank you NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for the chance to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Yan Lianke's "Heart Sutra" follows two teenagers on the brink of becoming adults: a Buddhist-jade-nun Yahui and a Daoist-social-climber-bastard Mingzheng.  But this isn't a normal coming of age story. 

Yahui and Mingzheng meet at a religious school in Beijing.  In the process of the pair falling in love and returning to secular life, we meet a cast of characters: Director Guo, Nameless, Pastor Wang and others who are all trying to navigate their lives upwards (usually at the cost of others). Toss in some tug-of-war, political power plays, money, "consensual" sex, self-harm, and genital mutilation and you've got this book: a satirical take on how religious and secular ways intersect and influence each other.  

If you're confused while reading this book, I recommend peeking at the Author and Translator Notes at the end of the book.

I'd recommend this book to fans of Yan's "mythorealism" or religious satire.
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Heart Sutra by Yan Lianke

TW: mutilating one’s genitals (non-graphic), brief self-harm and blood (graphic)

The author himself compares his book to Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Mishima’s The Temple of the Golden Pavilion or Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, and while most of these books are serious, this is a satiric version of religious scholars’ life narration. 

While modern life is rather secular, many societies treat religion with at-most respect, but what if respect itself is calculated in upgrading a centre to university, providing bigger salary the higher your scholar achievements are, or making friends with higher authorities?

I have to mention that some of the religion points might be critical, but how can it be otherwise, when your protagonists are naive school-girl from a village in the middle of nowhere, corrupt boss and social climber boy? 

The Buddhist orphan school-girl suddenly finds herself with no guidance, while her shifu is hospitalized, eventually falling for a Daoist boy, apparently an out-of-wedlock child of an authority, but which one - no one knows. The religious centre at the National Politics University in Beijing welcomes disciples from five religions: Buddhists, Daoists, Catholics, Protestants and Muslims, being the most popular religions in China. While the authority-figure is extremely power-hungry, he didn’t of anything better rather than provide a research paper on athletics impact on cross-religion communication.

Thus all the disiples regardless of genre are urge to participate in tug-of-war faculty championship…

Between people rooting for the one god than for the other, entering Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery at provincial level, rather than on prefecture level, because finding one’s father among higher-ups is surely better, a Buddhist stopping at nothing to get an apartment in the district, where Buddhists were once imprisoned, the narration flows quite okay. And definitely thanks to both author and translator proving separate notes at the end of the novel, even an atheist like me gets the point. 

Warning: I watched closely on the Muslims portrayal in this book, ultimately we’ll see that in authors opinion having a general life of hardship and being all clean and goody-goody is both unappealing. Eventually we learn that every person in this narration has both messed up at some point and had a chance at redemption.
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