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Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out: A Novel
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67 of 70 people found the following review helpful
on February 24, 2009
What a great book. I have been reading a lot of books on 20th century China, both fiction and non-fiction, and this is one of my favorites. Not many writers take on the tumultuous events of the Communist era from a rural perspective, but this book does just that. Northeast Gaomi Township is full of characters, fully fleshed out characters, whose stories are followed through a period of over 50 years. Much of the book is very funny, especially when the narrator is one of the animal reincarnations Of Ximen Nao (he returns as a donkey, an ox, a pig, and a dog) commenting on the foibles of humans and the many reforms of the Mao era. The pig farming part of the book alone is worth the price of admission. The one confusing part of the book is the use of multiple narrators. At first I was sometimes not sure of who was talking, but as the book progressed and I got to know the characters better, that became much less of a problem. One interesting aspect of the book is the author inserting himself as a character in the story, and a not too pleasant one at that. Amazingly, the book gets rather sad and rhapsodic at the end, but from this author nothing is unexpected. I plan to read some of his other books. Highly recommended.
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64 of 68 people found the following review helpful
Have you ever read a book that you really really didn't enjoy, but felt compelled to finish? I considered Mo Yan's "Garlic Ballads" one of the most searingly gut-wrenching novels I had ever read, offering an unforgettable portrait of rural poverty, which was compassionate without being at all melodramatic. So after seeing many glowing reviews of his latest novel in numerous esteemed publications, I couldn't wait to read Life And Death Are Wearing Me Out.

It's a clever concept: describing the development of a rural community during the tumultuous changes in China from 1949 through the late 1990s, through the eyes of animals who are the successive reincarnations of a prominent villager. Yet somehow Mo Yan's stark, unemotional style (which worked so well in conveying the drab poverty in his earlier novel), combined with his attempt at magical realism, just made this book a struggle to read. His attempts at self-deprecating humor by making himself, under his real name, one of the characters whom the others regard as a buffoon, is cloying at first, but one gets used to it. While he does a brilliant job at imagining the point of view and character development of a donkey and a pig, the lengthy sections about the ox and especially the dog felt contrived at times. About halfway through the novel I realized I'd lost interest, purely because the writing style was wearing me out. Yet I couldn't put it aside. I had an indescribable urge to finish the experience. From then on it was a struggle, reading 50 to 100 pages at a time, then taking a break to read something else, then back to this book.

This is a novel I am very glad to have read, but didn't really enjoy the act of reading it.
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47 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on August 9, 2010
I can't say enough about "Life and Death..." It will rank among my very favorite novels ever: Rushdie's "Midnight's Children"; Helprin's "Winter's Tale"; Bulgakov's "Master and Margarita". Each of these has a certain "fantasy"/"magical realism" element to it that for me adds tremendously to the fun of reading.

But each (with perhaps exception of "Winter's...") is also a pretty incisive look at the society and politics of its particular time and place. "Life and Death..." is a neat way to get an inside perspective of post-WWII China. And each is also a "ripping yarn": the plot lines are fast and fascinating; the drama intense. But the intense drama does not preclude humour: some parts of "Life and Death..." are very funny, in particular those parts in which the author, Mo Yan, makes wicked fun of his own character in the book. We get "comic relief" with a neat literary trick all for the price of one.

Another aspect that amazed me about the book is Yan's ability to keep each "reincarnation" as powerful as the preceding ones. Readers afraid to dive into the book for its length should just get with it: they will be getting 5 exceptional, unique stories, each with its own tremendous charm and each completely original.

If I have a very small quibble it has to do with the characterizations. Very few of the "supporting cast" are quite fully developed. But as if to compensate each reincarnation is wonderfully accomplished with each animal having its own, unique personality, and, especilly, attitudes (many of which quite funny)

All in all one of my best reads ever. I am very happy to have "discovered" Mo Yan and will look forward to his other works
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38 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on May 18, 2008
This book is written masterfully and encompasses a half century with sorrow and wit. Mo Yan is brilliant and the world he creates is both real and fantastical, while never settling for sentiment or fabulism. The only complaint I have about this book is the number of typos, which ranged from missed periods to misspelled words to forgetting page breaks between voices. I imagine Arcade Publishing is to blame and would hope they would take more time with an author whose work will probably win him the Nobel Prize.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 2009
You have to keep in mind that this work was not necessarily meant for the Western mindset. It is a marvelous look at how China changed through recent history and it is told in one of the most inventive ways I have ever seen. If you have strong views on how religion, reincarnation, sexuality, or relationships should be in your mind, you may have trouble understanding. This book, for us Westerners, could open your eyes to how others live and how our ridged sense of morality does not fairly translate else ware. It is also intensely spiritual. If you want to expand your knowledge of the human condition, buy this. Peace to you.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 2013
This was a great book, however, the kindle translation was not well done. There were many run-on and fragmented sentences. Whoever translated this from Chinese needs to learn basic grammer.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 18, 2013
I have spent most of the last 33 years in and around China, some of it studying modern Chinese history, and I have never read such a profound and delightful encapsulation of the story of the past 60 years. Given the criticism of Mo Yan for political cowardice, I was expecting something quite bland -- but not at all. Judging by this book alone, the criticism is very unfair; though Mo Yan is not a polemicist, and apparently does not want to be used as one. Mo uses animals to embody the spirit of each phase of the communist era, a donkey, an ox, a pig, a dog and a monkey, all possessed by the spirit of a "rich landlord" executed during land reform in the early days of the People's Republic. The landlord-animal matures through his multiple incarnations as, perhaps, does China. The novel has two tragic human heroes, a peasant who resists collectivisation and a true believer in the maoist system who cannot endure its collapse. Villains and victims abound, all detailed with a wonderful wit. My Chinese is not good enough to read the original, but I know enough that I believe the translation must be brilliant to convey as much of Chinese speech patterns and idiom in English as it succeeds in doing.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on April 30, 2013
As one man is born and reborn and reborn as different animals, the reader gets to see how Chinese history since 1949 played out in a single town: Gaomi Township, and especially Ximen Village. China makes the transition to communist and then to capitalist, and it is all reflected in the interconnected lives of the villagers (and their animals, of course). It is fascinating and sometimes hilarious.

I really enjoyed this story, but I have two criticisms.

1) Something seems missing. The Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution led to the deaths of tens of millions of people. HUGE numbers. Yet based on Life and Death are Wearing Me Out, they didn't seem horrifically bad. Yes, villagers are mistreated. Yes, villagers are beaten or wrongly imprisoned. But there aren't widespread government-sponsored mass murders in Gaomi Township. But at least we do see quite a bit of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. On the other hand, Tiananmen Square and the protests of 1989 are nowhere in the novel. They don't appear at all, not even indirectly. That seems rather odd for such a epic work of historical fiction.

2) Life and Death are Wearing Me Out is sometimes irksome to read. a) There are multiple narrators, and it's not always clear when they trade off. They are related to each other, but it took a while to figure out their interpersonal connection. b) Mo Yan has made himself a character in the book. Not only does that seem a little narcissistic, but Mo Yan (the character, not the actual author) is pretty annoying. His presence does not do much to advance the plot or overall storyline until the very end, though it is clear that the author Mo Yan seems to find it amusing to have such a goofy and annoying character named Mo Yan throughout most of the novel.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 28, 2012
Mo Yan's novel "Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out" is an imaginative story set in the Northeast Gaomi Township in China during the latter half of the 20th century. The narrator, Ximen Bao, is a hard-working and kind landowner who is executed following the Communist takeover in China. His land his collectivized while he is tortured in Hell. After enduring punishment upon punishment, the Lord of Hell sees that he is innocent and allows him to be reincarnated as a series of animals in the Northeast Gaomi Township. Progressing from donkey to ox to pig to dog to monkey, Ximen Bao watches his mistresses, children, and former friends deal with the changing Communist policies of the day while they grow up, grow old, get married, and die off.

The problem with these sweeping, magical realism "allegorical tale symbolizing a historical time period through the journey of one family/town" is that there are so many deaths, marriages, shifting allegiances and friendships that it is really pretty hard to stay connected to the ever changing landscape. A few reviewers have mentioned it, and I would agree that it reminded me of "One Hundred Years of Solitude." So many closely related people falling in love or marrying one another it seemed like a Mexican telanovela. At its best LADAWMO is fantastic - gripping, funny, inventive and moving. At other points, you're bored and waiting for something substantive to happen. I would recommend to anyone picking it up to not take it too seriously and to enjoy it for what it is - this isn't supposed to be "The Brothers Karamazov." Mo Yan really hits his stride during the pig reincarnation, in which he is able to weave Communist policies in with a full story of the rise of the Pig King, complete with supporting pig rivals, love interests, tragedy, heroism, and suffering.

Another critique would be that Mo Yan focused too heavily on the animal world. Though these are symbolic of what was going on in China at the time (the ox symbolizing the overworked collectives, the Pig King compared to Mao), the book was still light on what political changes or policies were actually being instituted that was causing the township so many problems. After finishing I didn't know that much more about the Cultural Revolution, other than that the youth replaced the old guard, and I wish he spent more time on the suffering the peasants had to endure during the Great Leap Forward, which caused millions upon millions of deaths. Never thought I would say it, but I was actually hoping for more on Chinese agrarian land policies.

Part of me wonders if we got the full story as well - I have heard of Mo Yan's novels being cut down before being available for translation outside of China. Did anyone else wonder why they only mentioned in passing that two characters had an affair that produced a child? Some reincarnations are much shorter than the others, and those parts of the story are really glossed over or told in straight exposition.

Regardless of my critiques, I would still recommend the book to anyone who wants to try Mo Yan or is looking for a creative novel. His use of metaphor and writing style was inventive and the narrator's voice was engaging. Mo Yan has crafted, in his own words, a "lumbering animal of a story" and in that way it is sort of like a rebellious pig - even though it might be hard to take down, it will be worth it when you finish him off.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on July 5, 2012
Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out is one of the finest novels I've ever read. It's also one of the most memorable -- I read a lot of novels, and I confess that I forget most of them after a few weeks. This one is a work of genius. The author has a huge heart, and the book has a great message, which I won't divulge. Read it! You'll be glad you did.
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