All of the characters are designated by their former occupation rather than by name--Scholar, Author, Musician, Theologian, Technician, and so on. Their camp is directed by the Child, that is, Heaven's Child, a designation I am guessing reflects the traditional Chinese idea that whoever is sovereign at a given moment has the mandate of heaven.
The Four Books provides a lot of vivid daily detail about life in the camp, of the sort you expect from a realist novel, but Yan departs from the straightforwardly novelistic in a couple of ways.
First, the novel purports to be excerpts from four different texts. "Criminal Records" is a text written by the Author for the Child, recording occasions when the camp's internees (that is, its "criminals") deviate from the rules. "Old Course" is also by the Author, recording his own experiences and less-official observations of the camp. "Heaven's Child" is--I think--by the Scholar, and focuses on the camp's director. Finally, "A New Myth of Sisyphus," also by the Scholar and which Yan holds back until the novel's end, turns the story of Sisyphus into a kind of parable about being an internee in the camp, or possibly about being Chinese under the Communist dispensation.
Second, and fittingly for someone who won the Franz Kafka Prize, Yan sometimes resorts to a kind of imaginatively heightened, just-this-side-of magical-realism narration--which is a good fit, since the Great Leap Forward involved a certain amount of magical thinking, with production goals seemingly set entirely by whim, without the least regard for what was physically or naturally possible.
While a more straightforward novel about the Great Leap Forward would also be interesting, the multiple perspectives gives the reader a finer-grained idea of how the internees gradually--a bit like Josef K--come to accept and co-operate with the assumptions of the authority that has coerced them. The absurdities that begin to creep in, again like those that Josef K faces in the Court and the Castle, make that acceptance and co-operation all the more unsettling. The final parable too seems a Kafkaesque touch, and rivals Kafka pieces like "Before the Law."
The most impressive aspect of the novel, though, is how Yan characterizes the official, the Child. One expects him to be a bully, a petty tyrant, some kind of amoral monster, any of the familiar camp commandant stereotypes, but he's a kid, really: idealistic, hopeful, often generous, ambitious but in a boyish, big-eyed way that almost breaks your heart. He is, of course, complicit with the system, but he is a continual surprise, with the biggest surprise of all at the end.