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Mo Yan, winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature

October 9, 2013 by Reader's Connection

The winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature will be announced tomorrow. We look back, now, to some of the works by Mo Yan, the Chinese novelist and story writer who won the prize last year.

Click on his name to see all of his titles at the library. Many of these are in the original Chinese, but here are reviews of a few English translations. (The publication dates listed are those of editions in English.)


Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out (2008)

Life and Death Are Wearing Me OutThis novel is every bit as rambunctious and bizarre as the summary will suggest. The story begins in Hell, whose placid sadistic calm is disturbed by the bitter complaints of Ximen Nao, a prosperous landowner arrested and executed when Chairman Mao’s policy of “land reform” required the seizure of Nao’s property. Unable to extract the stubborn Nao’s confession of wrongdoing, Lord Yama (aka Satan) agrees to “send him back” to earth. But Nao finds he isn’t himself, as he lives through successive reincarnations as a donkey, ox, pig, dog and monkey during a half-century of the Cultural Revolution, up to the beginning of the new millennium . . . [Yan] makes broadly comic use of himself as a meddlesome, career-oriented hack whose versions of important events are, we are assured, not to be trusted. — Kirkus Reviews


Big Breasts & Wide Hips (2004)

Big Breasts & Wide Hips. . . the elaborate, fleet and episodic plot-is arresting and satisfying. The book opens as two creatures struggle to give birth: Shangguan Lu, the beleaguered mother of seven daughters, and the family donkey, who ends up getting the wealth of aid and sympathy from Lu’s mother-in-law. It’s a revealing scene that effectively lays out the themes of Mo Yan’s brutal, inspired work and suggests the significance of its title: in a harsh environment like rural China where survival is not guaranteed but a privilege fought for every day, humans, and especially women, have only their bodies and their animal instincts to depend on, with fate often stepping in to play a cruel hand. However, this doesn’t stop the daughters of grimly resolute Lu from developing into a clan of steely-eyed women who throughout the book make choices and meet destinies that are at turns heartening, vicious and breathtaking. Most of the book is narrated by Jintong, the weak and spoiled son who breast-feeds well into childhood, provoking derision and disgust from his sisters. His lack of stature makes him a compelling narrator, a frontline observer who is invested in the outcomes but always something of an outsider. — Publishers Weekly


The Republic of Wine (2000)

The Republic of WineYou may think you’re watching Twin Peaks on Chinese television halfway through this rumbustious melodramatic satire by the internationally acclaimed author. The story opens in straightforward fashion, as a middle-aged government inspector, Ding Gou’er, is sent to a remote northeastern province to investigate allegations of cannibalism and other misbehavior in a booze-ridden Shangri-La known as “Liquorland.” Ding’s increasingly bizarre misadventures, which involve a sybaritic mining mogul (a wonderfully drawn Falstaffian villain) nicknamed¬†‘Diamond Jin” and a ferociously amorous “lady trucker,” are wittily juxtaposed against author Mo Yan’s surreal ongoing correspondence with Li Yidou (a native Liquorlander), an importunate wannabe writer who sends the baffled novelist copies of his own short stories: haywire narratives which ingenuously dramatize Li’s own political opinions, sexual fantasies, and paranoid delusions . . . Mo Yan has heretofore looked like China’s Maxim Gorky; it now seems he may also be his country’s Evelyn Waugh or Groucho Marx. — Kirkus Reviews



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