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““A wildly visceral and creative novel . . . A vast, cruel, and complex story.” ” (The New York Times Book Review)
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
About the Author
Mo Yan, winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature, was born in 1955 in North Gaomi Township in Shandong Province, an impoverished rural area that is the setting for much of his fiction. Despite the audacity of his writing, he has won virtually every national literary prize, including China’s Annual Writer’s Prize, its most prestigious award. He is the author of The Garlic Ballads, The Republic of Wine; Shifu, You’ll Do Anything for a Laugh; Big Breasts and Wide Hips, and Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out, all published by Arcade, as well as Red Sorghum and Pow!. Mo Yan and his family live in Beijing.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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.
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.
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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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.