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The Funeral Cryer by Wenyan Lu


The Funeral Cryer is a very enlightening novel which opened my eyes to present-day life in rural China.


At first, I thought the book was set some time ago because of the simplicity of life there. However, when cell phones and other modern things were mentioned, I soon realised that this is a portrayal of life in today’s China.


The book is narrated by a middle-aged woman. We never find out her name or the names of most of the other characters. They are simply referred to as The Husband, The Daughter, or sometimes Butcher (because he was one) or Hotpot (because she liked to eat it!).


Our narrator works as a funeral cryer. She is employed by people to assist them to cry at the funerals of their loved ones. Having this occupation means she is somewhat of an outcast in the village. The Husband is lazy and doesn’t work. He spends his time playing Mah Jong with other men. He could have raised pigs and chickens to help ends meet, but it is too smelly and dirty for him.


Life in rural China seems to be a completely different world compared to life in modern cities. The Daughter lives in Shanghai. She wants to have a baby. Being single is apparently not an issue. The contrast between the generations and what is deemed acceptable behaviour is very marked.


Mum and Dad’s generation didn’t talk about love. We all grew up learning to love our leaders and our party as well as our motherland. The daughter’s generation started to go on about love, and there seemed to be too much so-called love around the world these days.


This is a story of love on many levels. Our narrator finds a growing love through her visits to her hairdresser; there is the love of parents (preparing their ‘last outfit’ to be worn upon their deaths), even the husband appears to find love elsewhere, although whether this is innocent or something deeper is questionable.


As a middle-aged woman, our narrator has gained a certain wisdom. She is going through a bit of an awakening. Her observations and insights into relationships and the goings on in the village are very enlightening. Being a funeral cryer she has access to the private lives of people she probably wouldn’t rub shoulders with otherwise, and this gives her an underlying confidence in herself.


This is a moving story, which sheds light on what life is like in modern rural China, the mixing of modern and traditional customs, and the bonds of love, responsibility and loyalty that underpin everyday lives. It’s a lovely story.


Reviewer: Rachel White

Allen & Unwin

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