Three Brothers: Memories of my family

Yan Lianke

Three Brothers

‘Full of love, sorrow, and tenderness, Yan Lianke’s memoir offers a deeply heartfelt account of his family in the 1960s and 70s. Three Brothers is a must read for anyone who wants to understand post-Mao China and a new opportunity to experience more of what this extraordinary author conveys to us with his vivid and poetic style’ Xiaolu Guo

In this heartfelt, intimate memoir, Yan Lianke brings the reader into his childhood home in Song County in Henan Province, painting a vivid portrait of rural China in the 1960s and ’70s and chronicling the extraordinary lives of Yan Lianke’s father and uncles, as well as his own. Yan’s parents could only afford to use wheat flour on New Year and festival days, and as a child he dreams of fried scallion buns, and once steals from his father to buy a sesame seed cake. Yan yearns to leave the village, however he can. He resolves to become a writer himself after reading on the back of a novel that its author was given leave to remain in the city of Harbin after publishing her book. In the evenings, after finishing back-breaking shifts hauling stones at a cement factory, sometimes sixteen hours long, he sets to work writing. A career in the Army ultimately allows Yan to escape village life, but he is filled with regrets as he recalls these years of scarcity, turmoil, and poverty. A powerful portrait of the trials of daily life, as well as a philosophical meditation on grief, death, home, and fate, and gleaming throughout with Yan’s quick wit and gift for imagery, Three Brothers is a personal portrait of a politically devastating period, and a celebration of the power of the family to hold together even in the harshest circumstances.

This memoir is full of wisdom, humour, humility and love for the family to whom the author owes everything.

‘[A]n elegiac tribute to his father’s generation, who laboured for a lifetime to build traditional houses for their sons and provide dowries for their daughters . . . This is also Yan’s story, a story of opportunity seized, of physical escape and the discovery of a world beyond the village, but without escaping the emotional and spiritual attachments to rural life.’ Financial Times

‘Yan Lianke’s Three Brothers is a tender, frank and philosophical memoir of growing up in a rural family cursed by “constant poverty” but blessed with “boundless grace”… These are rich and intimate portraits, full of humour and pathos’ The Saturday Paper

‘A leading Chinese novelist, famous for sharp satire, tells the story of his family’s hardscrabble life with surprising tenderness. . . Most of this memoir is filled with stories of Yan’s father and uncles . . . Yan admires their selflessness, and their persistence in the bleakest of times, and renders their portraits in loving detail . . .[b]ut Yan also admits wanting to flee . . . It is this tension, together with Yan’s unadorned prose, that leavens a sentimental account of peasant life into something complicated and powerful.’ Booklist, starred review

‘A memoir steeped in metaphor and ultimately tremendously moving.’ Kirkus

‘Told episodically, Yan Lianke’sThree Brotherstells a moving story of family, loss, and self-discovery. This memoir spans several decades and offers a moving take on the generation of relatives that preceded its author—including their connections, their flaws, and their presence in his life. Lianke also explores his own path toward becoming a writer, which makes for some of this book’s most memorable moments.’ Words Without Borders

‘After decades of glimpsing autobiographical hints in his always intriguing, often surreal novels and short stories, Anglophone audiences get access to Yan Lianke’s real life. Haunted by the passing of the men in his father’s generation, Yan–one of China’s most awarded, lauded authors–transforms his anguished loss into Three Brothers: Memories of My Family. ’ Shelf Awareness

‘Three Brothersis a warm and engaging look at life in China before and after the Cultural Revolution. The contrast between city and country, the ways that people face death and the hardships of life are ideas readers across the world can understand. While the culture might be unfamiliar to some, the book’s universal themes make it well worth reading.’ Winnipeg Free Press


  • Yunnan People’s Press China
  • INK Taiwan
  • Grove Atlantic USA
  • Text Australia
  • Editions Philippe Picquier France (abridged version)
  • Nottetempo Italy (abridged version)
  • Chatto & Windus UK
  • Kawade Shobo Japan
  • Ithaki Turkey
  • Natur och Kultur Sweden
  • Jaum Moum Korea

Material: Chinese, English PDF (209pp)