After first becoming widely available to Chinese readers in the mid-1990s, Golden Age survived early controversy to become a subversive classic. This new translation by Yan Yan captures Wang Xiaobo's absurdist sense of humor, as well as the grimly amusing satire of China's Cultural Revolution that lurks within it. As Michael Berry states in his introduction, by the time Golden Age arrived on the scene, "all narrative possibilities about the Cultural Revolution had seemingly been exhausted." Golden Age takes a new, defiantly irreverent approach, reimagining the turbulent era from the perspective of a sex-obsessed, educated youth sent down to the Yunnan countryside.
The novel takes place in three distinct periods of protagonist Wang Er's life. His time spent in Yunnan is his golden age, before he understood that "life is but a slow drawn-out process of getting your balls crushed." This first period is preoccupied with Wang Er's wild adventures and sexual escapades with Chen Qingyang, which earn them both endless rounds of criticism sessions and written confessions. Golden Age doesn't ignore the bitter reality of these persecutions--in a vivid scene later in the book, an academic is driven to suicide.
The seriousness of the subject matter, however, never gets in the way of the novel's penchant for black comedy and lewd jokes. As Wang Er settles down to become a university professor, the novel finds new satirical targets in the ridiculous squabbles of academia as well as Wang Er's still-chaotic love life. Golden Age is never less than entertaining, its sharp insights existing alongside endless sexual innuendo and jokes that mine humor from the darkest recesses of Chinese history. --Hank Stephenson, the Sun magazine, manuscript reader