The Years Months Days: 2 Novellas – Yan Lianke

The Years Months Days is one of Chinese writer Yan Lianke’s novellas published in 2002, which makes one think a lot about living stubbornly, no matter what. As a hunger-tested writer, Yan Lianke brilliantly describes hunger and what it does to humans with his character The Elder, and even with dogs, wolves, and mice.


The main character of The Years Months Days is a 72-year-old character named The Elder. The Elder lives alone with a blind dog, Blindy, in his village, which everyone has abandoned because of the drought. He cannot afford to go to another settlement three days away, so he tries to cope with loneliness and hunger only with his blind dog. Ah, of course, with the grain of corn that he looked forward to as a corn seedling.

The Years, Months, Days Two Novellas - Yan Lianke

Throughout this novella, one does not know whether to pity the blind dog, the lonely old man, the wolves or the mice. In the end, you feel sorry for all of them, humanity and the state of the world; however, despite everything, The Elder’s stubbornness to live and let live shows that this life is worth living.

The Years Months Days is one of the flawless novellas with both the subject and the character that you can’t take your eyes off of and the author’s narration. But I must mention that it leaves the reader with a lingering sad feeling.

The second novella inThe Years Months Days is called Marrow. Marrow was also excellent in its style, and its subject was fascinating. But what shocked me was its ending. It leaves you speechless, as are the characters in the novella. Yan Lianke is an exceptional writer, and I recommend this book to anyone who wants to read powerful novellas from China. Enjoy!

The Years, Months, Days Two Novellas - Yan Lianke

The Years Months Days Two Novellas

The Years Months Days: Over the last decade, Yan Lianke has been continually heralded as one of the “best contemporary Chinese writers” (The Independent) and “one of the country’s fiercest satirists” (The Guardian). Among many awards and honors, he has been twice a finalist for the Man Booker International Prize and he was awarded the prestigious Franz Kafka Prize for his impressive body of work. Now, for the first time, his two most acclaimed novellas are being published in English.

“Timeless” and “marvelous” (Asian Review of Books), Marrow is a haunting story of a widow who goes to extremes to provide a normal life for her four physically and mentally disabled children. When she finds out that bones “the closer from kin the better” can cure their illnesses and prevent future generations from the same fate, she feeds them a medicinal soup made from the bones of her dead husband. But after running out of bones, she resorts to a measure that only a mother can take.

A luminous, moving fable, The Years Months Days–a bestselling classic in China and winner of the prestigious Lu Xun Literary Prize–tells of an elderly man who stays in his small village after a terrible drought forces everyone to leave. Unable to make the grueling march through the mountains, he becomes the lone inhabitant, along with a blind dog. Tending to a single ear of corn, and fending off the natural world from overtaking the village, every day is a victory over death.

With touches of the fantastical, these two novellasThe Years Months Days and Marrow–masterpieces of the form–reflect the universality of mankind’s will to live, live well, and live with purpose.

Yan Lianke

Renowned Chinese novelist Yan Lianke was born in an impoverished region of Song County, Henan Province in 1958. His parents, illliterate farmers who lacked the means to send him to university, encouraged him to enlist in the army, where he rose in the ranks to become a propaganda writer. Upon returning to civilian life, Yan embarked on a career as a novelist.

Over the last 30 years, he has produced an extensive body of work that ranges from novels, novellas and short fiction to essays and criticism. Although he has had two of his novels banned in China and was, for a period of three years, prohibited from obtaining a passport or travelling abroad, Yan continues to speak honestly about the impact that government censorship – and self-censorship – have had on contemporary Chinese writers.

The Years Months Days: 2 Novellas - Yan Lianke

His full-length novels include: The Dream of Ding Village (丁庄梦, Ding Zhuang Meng), a tale of the blood trade and subsequent Aids epidemic in a rural Henan village; The Joy of Living (Alt title: The Living, 受活, Shou Huo), a sweeping tale of the lives of disabled rural villagers from the Chinese Communist revolution through the years of reform and opening; The Sunlit Years (日光流年, Riguang Liunian); Solidity of Water (Alt title: Hard as Water, 坚硬如水, Jianying Ru Shui) and Serve the People (为人民服务, Wei Renmin Fuwu), which was banned in China and later translated into English, French and Japanese.

He has published ten collections of novellas and short stories: among them, the critically acclaimed The Years Months Days (年月日, Nian Yue Ri)Song of Balou (耙耧天歌, Balou Tiange) and a five-volume set of his collected works. He is a member of the Chinese Writers’ Association and the recipient of numerous literary awards, including the first and second Lu Xun Literary Prizes and the Lao She Award for literary excellence, awarded in recognition of his novel The Joy of Living (受活, Shou Huo), considered by many to be his master work.The Years Months Days is one of his most popular novellas.

Yan was the recipient of the 2021 Newman Prize for Chinese Literature.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges: 

Read Around the World, A Great Journey

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