Death Fugue by Sheng Keyi Giramondo Publishing 3 stars Kit Gillet Death Fugue , Sheng Keyi's second novel to be translated into English after Northern Girls , is, at its core, an absurdist take on the legacy of June 4, 1989, and the totalitarian nature of the Chinese government still in place today. At the heart of the novel lies Yuan Mengliu, a poet who gave up poetry to become a doctor in the aftermath of a Tiananmen Square-like protest movement that occurs in a fictitious country called Dayang. Unable to handle the government's violent suppression of the idealistic young students and poets, the deaths of his friends and colleagues, Yuan abandons writing and retreats into the clinical world of surgery. At the same time he seeks solace in the arms of a multitude of young, attractive women. Once a year he heads out in search of his lost love, one of the protest's leaders who disappeared during its bloody conclusion. On one of these trips a storm sends Yuan's boat to a land that at first appears to be a perfect society where creativity is praised above all else. Far from being a utopian world, however, it is a tightly controlled society where sex is forbidden even in marriage, where torture is permitted, and where the elderly and genetically imperfect are cast aside. As reality dawns, Yuan tries to find a way out. Sheng creates vivid worlds filled with over-the-top imagery, parodies and metaphors that are destined to leave a lasting impression but can at times detract from the narrative of the book. The protest that anchors the book begins when a huge pile of excrement mysteriously appears overnight in Round Square. When the government announces that it is simply a nine-storey-high pile of gorilla faeces, citizens take to the streets to protest against what they see as a huge governmental cover-up. Events snowball from there. The book's absurdity at times borders on the ridiculous, but never feels entirely unbelievable in a novel that doesn't try to hide its overall parallels with events that happened in China's recent past. Yet on many occasions the novel fails to hit the mark. The story switches between the different time periods and so we see the young Yuan surrounded by impassioned protesters, the older Yuan chasing women, and the Yuan trapped in the dystopian world he's washed up in, but the transitions aren't seamless and the characters often feel like representatives of types rather than real people the reader should care about. Despite this, Death Fugue , with its jarring and intense symbolism, is likely to leave a lasting impression on anyone who reads it.