The 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature: It’s Mo Yan

By Susan Harris

The Nobel Prize in literature goes to Chinese writer Mo Yan. From the citation: “Through a mixture of fantasy and reality, historical and social perspectives, Mo Yan has created a world reminiscent in its complexity of those in the writings of William Faulkner and Gabriel García Márquez, at the same time finding a departure point in old Chinese literature and in oral tradition.” You can read what we thought of his Big Breasts and Wide Hips here.



I am calling for the help of those who have read one or more of Mo Yan’s books. With which book to start if I want to get an impression of this writer: ?


I read LIFE AND DEATH ARE WEARING ME OUT when it came out in English around the time of the Beijing Olympics. It struck me as a Chinese counterpart to G√ľnter Grass’s THE TIN DRUM. It is about a Chinese noble and landowner, executed by Mao’s folks in 1950, who spends the subsequent fifty years being reincarnated as animals on his own farm. I enjoyed it immensely - until, that is, I grew a bit weary of it. The section in which the unrepentant fellow comes back as an enormous pig grew a bit tedious for me, perhaps because of the transparency of the political allegory at that point. Nonetheless, It’s ambition is large and worth diving into… and rooting around in, so to speak. For a sample of its considerable narrative virtues, I’ve included a passage from it in my post honoring Mr. Mo on his winning day.



I have just finished reading “You’ll Do Anything for a Laugh” which is a collection of his short stories. Each one of them is brilliant, though the first one (after which the book is named) stands head and shoulder over the rest. I highly recommend this work to get acquainted with Mo Yan’s writing.

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