Unfolding in the tense years of the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), Trees Without Wind takes place in a remote Shanxi village in which a rare affliction has left the residents physically stunted. Director Liu, an older revolutionary and local commune head, becomes embroiled in a power struggle with Zhang Weiguo, a young ideologue who believes he is the model of a true revolutionary. Complicating matters is a woman named Nuanyu, who, like Zhang Weiguo and Director Liu, is an outsider untouched by the village's disease. "Wedded" to all of the male villagers, Nuanyu lives a polyandrous lifestyle based on necessity and at odds with the puritanical idealism of the Cultural Revolution.
The deformed villagers, representing the manipulated masses of China, become pawns in the Party representatives' factional infighting. Director Liu and Zhang Weiguo's explosive tug-of-war is part of a larger battle among politics, self-interest, and passion gripping a world undone by ideological extremism. A collectively told narrative powered by distinctive subjectivities, Trees Without Wind is a milestone in the fictional treatment of a horrific event.
"Elegant and spare, Trees Without Wind is a valuable, authentic work that lays bare the corruption of the Cultural Revolution." — Alice Stephens, Washington Independent Review of Books
"Li Rui is one of China's boldest literary voices, and after several decades, he continues to push the envelope. His bold literary experiments with dialect and tense, combined with his honest expose of the brutalities of modern Chinese history, have set him apart from his peers and crafted one of the most fascinating and unique literary landscapes in modern Chinese literature." — Michael Berry, author of A History of Pain: Trauma in Modern Chinese Literature and Film
"A fascinating work by one of contemporary China's most influential and innovative novelists. Balanced on the fulcrum of politics, self-interest, tradition, and desire, the novel presents a distinctively original perspective on the political struggles that turned China upside down during the Cultural Revolution." — Carlos Rojas, author of The Naked Gaze: Reflections on Chinese Modernity
"A true masterpiece by one of China's greatest writers. Li Rui's compassion and unique command of narrative skill, which is mirrored in John Balcom's translation, makes this novel the truest, most moving, and most terrifying portrayal ever written of the agony and suffering created by the Cultural Revolution." — Göran Malmqvist, Member of the Swedish Academy