I first learnt about Mo Yan / 莫言 when I was browsing books in an Eslite bookstore in Taipei. There was an entire shelf featuring his works that had been translated into English. Many of these books had “Winner of 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature” printed on the cover, lest this recognition goes unnoticed.
Having made a note of him on the list of books/authors on my phone, I eventually read up on Mo Yan when I was back in Brussels. The first novel of his that I read was The Garlic Ballads / 天堂蒜薑之歌, which traces the revolt by peasants of Paradise Country against the Chinese Communist Party following a disastrous campaign to cultivate only garlic.
More information: Excerpt and reviews in The New York Times and The Independent.This was then followed by a brick of a book, Life and Death are Wearing Me Out / 生死疲劳, which I spent many hours reading during hot afternoons and warm nights in Istanbul. The story is narrated by Ximen Nao and Lan Lian, his adopted son. After he was wrongfully executed, the former returns to his family home, first as a donkey, then an ox, a pig, a dog, a monkey, before finally resuming human form, with each reincarnation featuring incredulous and/or hilarious incidents. Mo Yan himself appears in this long narrative as a crafty writer who’s a family friend.
More information: Excerpt and reviews in The New York Times and Washington Post.Today, I finished reading Big Breasts and Wide Hips / 丰乳肥臀. The story revolves around the Shangguan family, led by Shangguan Lu, an extraordinary woman with bound feet and gumption to survive against all odds as she raises her nine children and their grandchildren during turbulent times. The family’s woes and triumphs are seen through the eyes of Shangguan Jintong, her only son who has a peculiar fixation on breasts.
More information: Reviews in Washington Post and The New Yorker. Mo Yan is a masterful storyteller, mixing fiction with historical events in 20th century China together with a generous dose of satire. His heady tales latch firmly onto the reader’s imagination from the onset and are brought to life by vivid details in the interchanging narratives and flashbacks.
That said, each time I would start enthusiastically, enraptured even, but my attention would start faltering mid-way and I struggled to finish the books. I find these stories to be a little longwinded with the plot dragged on for too long, only to end off abruptly under hurried and bizarre circumstances, as though Mo Yan realises after writing for several hundred pages that the storyline was going nowhere!
Would I recommend his books? Yes. Because his stories are fascinating and deftly weaves fiction with reality. I just don’t think that I’ll be reading a fourth novel by him anytime soon.