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99 of 101 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Undiscovered Masterpiece
I discovered Mo Yan and this title years ago through Amazon, when it was recommended as an "undiscovered" work. Sadly, it is still the case that very few people have read either The Garlic Ballads or Red Sorghum, Mo's other masterpiece, let alone heard of the author. This is tragic, given that he is immensely talented, one of the true literary masters writing...
Published on January 9, 2001

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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Misery, Pain, Courage, Humiliation
I believe Mo Yan is trying to channel Lu Xun's "Diary of a Madman" and show a society of Chinese people cannibalizing itself. To be fair, the book's criticisms of some government practices (making quotas of what should be farmed, then not being able to pay for the surplus that results) and some social practices (arranged marriages) faces strong criticism much of which is...
Published on December 8, 2012 by B. Doherty


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99 of 101 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Undiscovered Masterpiece, January 9, 2001
By A Customer
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This review is from: The Garlic Ballads (Paperback)
I discovered Mo Yan and this title years ago through Amazon, when it was recommended as an "undiscovered" work. Sadly, it is still the case that very few people have read either The Garlic Ballads or Red Sorghum, Mo's other masterpiece, let alone heard of the author. This is tragic, given that he is immensely talented, one of the true literary masters writing today. The Garlic Ballads tells the tale of a group of Chinese peasants whose lives are dependent upon selling their garlic crop; when harvests exceed governmental estimates, officials curb the amount of garlic that can be brought to market, setting off a violent chain of events. Against this backdrop, Mo weaves presents three stories: that of two lovers, which dominates the novel, as well as a familial conflict and the relationship between two friends. It is no exaggeration to say that this is the Chinese equivalent of The Sound and the Fury or 100 Years of Solitude; Mo's voice is inventive, poetic and urgent, yet he never loses sight of the plot, making this book difficult to put down. Goldblatt also deserves a great deal of credit for his translation. I do not read Chinese, but I often have the sense in reading English translations, even of great works, that a great deal has been lost, that there is something missing from the original work. Goldblatt's translation is so good as to make the reader mistake this for an English novel; the prose is nearly flawless. Any reader interested in literature would be wise to pick up this novel, if just for the ending, which is unsettling yet poetically rendered, and will stick with the reader for years. Years from now, probably when Mo wins a Nobel, I am sure he will have a wide following, but for now, The Garlic Ballads is a novel that cries to be read.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazingly Depressing, November 30, 2000
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"sternfan420" (Los Angeles, CA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Garlic Ballads (Paperback)
This is one of those book that makes you both depressed and inspired at the same time. Set in rural China, the Garlic Ballads explores the misfortune of ordinary Chinese farmers during the post revolutionary period. Having read this book for a Political Science class on China, it was interesting to see how the policies implemented in Beijing could harm the common people so severly. Because the government told these people to grow Garlic, a non-staple food, instead of rice for instance, when they couldn't sell it they were left with nothing. you cannot survive on Garlic. This poor regional planning by the PRC leads to the ruin of many lives. The book, while not overtly political, must have rubbed someone in Beijing the wrong way because it was banned in China. Great Book, Great Author!
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars captivating, February 13, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Garlic Ballads (Paperback)
It's difficult to let go of the book. If you consider Arundhati Roy's A God of small Things graphic and captivating, this book is ten times more. You can smell Gao Ma's sweat, feel Fourth aunt's anguish, almost to the point of having a lump in your throat.... you want to warn Jinju...... I must say it is one of the best books I have read.... it depicts simple people living in hard times, in very helpless circumstances. Basically there was no way out, and people could only console themselves that their lives were `fated'. To have a better understanding, it would really help if you read Wild Swan: three daughters of China by Jung Chang. It literally gives you heartache.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Misery, Pain, Courage, Humiliation, December 8, 2012
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This review is from: The Garlic Ballads: A Novel (Paperback)
I believe Mo Yan is trying to channel Lu Xun's "Diary of a Madman" and show a society of Chinese people cannibalizing itself. To be fair, the book's criticisms of some government practices (making quotas of what should be farmed, then not being able to pay for the surplus that results) and some social practices (arranged marriages) faces strong criticism much of which is imaginatively expressed.
But the relentlessness of the suffering of the people, the casual brutality of the officials, the animalistic brutality of a family towards their rebellious daughter and her lover--well, it gets to be too much, real fast.
[For those who don't want SPOILERS (but will wish they had read this, because it may have saved them the purchase and the time, I say here--spoiler alert.]
One of the main characters, for instance, is forced by various people to drink his own urine. Not once, not twice. . . Copious amounts of it, too. Another man is forced to eat a rich meal--after it has been vomited up by our protagonist (forced vomiting by punching in the stomach). Our one sympathetic female character, pregnant in a love relationship, after a conversation with her fetus dentata, hangs herself on the delivery day. Characters are beaten with wooden stools, strung up from their hands which have been tied behind their back, anally violated with thorny sticks. They have lice eating binges. In one, particularly well-rendered scene, a prisoner with an open sore on his ankle is attacked by a rooster who pecks and pecks at the painfully infected sore until it extracts a tendon, which it gobbles down like a worm. Oh, the balladeer of the title--tasered in the mouth!
There are some redeeming qualities to this book, but sometimes it feels like searching for the diamond hidden in a pile of decaying, amputated limbs.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Smell and the Fury -- For Strong Stomachs Only, May 16, 2001
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This review is from: The Garlic Ballads (Paperback)
The scent of garlic permeates this book, to such an extent that it becomes quite visceral and at times -- amazing for such a bulbhead as myself -- even nauseating. Both time and space are fragmented by the writer as he weaves back and forth among his stories of garlic farmers pitted against local corruption and their own at times cruel family traditions.
The central event in the book is an invasion and trashing by an angry mob of the local governmental offices. We do not see this event occur until the end of the book, yet it colors every moment in the lives of the Fang and Gao families of Paradise County. It is understandable that the Beijing government would suppress a novel that shows most of its local officials to be bloated satraps and its policement to be little better than thugs, applying cattle prods to their prisoners and beating them mercilessly.
Equally villainous, however, are the Fang family, who force their daughter to marry an old man in a three-in-one arranged marriage that guarantees that their crippled eldest son also gets a bride. In a grisly scene, the marriage deal finally goes through after both the daughter and her fiance commit suicide: Their bodies are dug up, their remains are mixed together, and they are re-interred in a single coffin.
This is not a pleasant book to read: It takes a strong stomach, especially in the prison episodes. At the same time, it is, I feel, an important book that is beautifully written.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars We are all peasants in the world, October 4, 2007
When it comes to the plight of the farmer and the destitute, Mo Yan has experience in spades. Having come from Revolutionary China, he relates a tale in his introduction to Shifu, You'll Do Anything for a Laugh where his village was so poor and hungry that when a shipment of coal arrived, the people started eating the coal.

But Mo Yan doesn't take that kind of personal experience to make his work seem like communist propaganda, making the government seem ornately inhuman and the working man saintly and oppressed. In this novel, there is clearly an imbalance of power, and the exploitation of the poor and the powerless by the connected and wealthy, but the oppressed are hardly saints. They are, instead, people with their own shortcomings and prejudices, and by understanding that, Mo Yan shows the true power of an artist--rather than stoop for the easy message, he dives into the actuality of his characters to make them empathic and flawed, and allow us to root for them and cringe when we realize that they simply don't have the wisdom to always act correctly.

This novel focuses on the aftermath of an uprising. The people of Paradise County have been encouraged, if not ordered, to grow garlic, and so garlic has infused itself into every aspect of the people's lives--their breath reeks of it, their celebrations tainted with it. But the governing officials of Paradise County are out to grab up every copper they can, and so out come the taxes for traveling the roads to the co-op warehouses, the penalties, the closures, and one day the garlic farmers have had enough and act out against the officials making their lives so full of hardship.

But of course the government retaliates, and we focus on some of their victims. First off is Gao Yang, who suffers enough with a blind daughter and a new son soon to be born, but he is beaten and brought to jail. One who escapes at first is Gao Ma, a former soldier who longs to marry Jinjun, whose family have agreed to marry her to someone else, but Gao Ma and Jinjun do not take the alternate marriage lightly, and trouble ensues from there. Jinjun's mother, Fourth Aunt of the Fang family, is also sought after in the police hunt since she won't stay quiet about her husband being run over by a government official, and the lives of these peasants intertwine through the courses of love and justice. The Fang family is cruel to both Jinjun and Gao Ma as they try to reject the lovers' vow to be married, and Gao Yang suffers humiliation and torment from his cellmates. Fourth Aunt holds a tyrranical post at home, but in jail she becomes a different creature altogether. At times bawdy and scatological, at other times heart-breaking and lyrical, Mo Yan gives us the entirety of the human spectrum with his novel, presenting to us both the base nature of life as well as its romantic pleasure. Powerful, haunting stuff.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Strong book but horrible Kindle Presentation, October 29, 2012
I purchased this title after Mo won the Noble Prize and was impressed. This is the tragic story of several garlic farmers whose personal lives are caught up in the larger context of agrarian policy in China. This novel deftly examines issues of family, arranged marriage, bureaucratic burden on personal lives and a sense of personal frustration for individuals trying to lead an unencumbered life. These individuals are consumed by their personal choices but also the state dictates that encourage a certain behavior- garlic planting- which is then undermined when the state fails to purchase the abundant crops of the locality. The result is societal and personal turmoil that ends tragically. Mo paints a canvas of modern agrarian life in China with its traditional cultural idiosyncrasies and practices that collide with the modern states aims. The novel contains several well drawn characters and set pieces, humor and pathos. Some of the scatological aspects of the book are hard to take, but add to the theme of personal degradation of the individual. For those who are saying that Mo is a coddler of the Chinese Communist Party, I submit this pointed critical work, which rebukes the government in numerous ways. This is a strong introduction to Mo's work and I highly recommend this fairly short introduction to his work. I look forward to reading his other works.

With that said the Kindle edition of this book is a travesty. It is loaded with grammatical and spelling errors. Hopefully anyone who purchases this important title will receive a corrected version. This kind of sloppiness is not acceptable.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Beautiful Love Story in a Tragic Setting, April 19, 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: The Garlic Ballads (Paperback)
This book relates the dramatic impact of a minor upsurge against the corrupt state institutions on the lives of a number of Chinese peasant families. The main story details the tragic love story of Gao Ma and Fang Jinju. This story is told in parallel with the life of Gao Yang and some other stories. All are inter-related. The background is a Chinese village in the mid 1980s. The details make it frightfully real. A book everybody with an interest in China should read
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Relentless Poverty and Pain in the Chinese Countryside, December 19, 2012
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Mo Yan's novel makes Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying" and Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath" look like celebrations of joy. This novel of a small farming community somewhere in China lays bare a problematic that is reflected on a daily basis in the world media covering China. Local officials are inept, corrupt and powerful. They spend their time abusing impoverished peasants who are still hopeful that Beijing is getting it right, and will come to save them from the local incompetents. It is also about tradition and progress. In one scene, the novel's hero seeks to rescue his true love from an unfair, yet profitable, arranged marriage. He holds a Communist law book in his hand, and explains to the father of his true love that arranged marriages are illegal, and that "each person has the right to marry the person of his or her choice." The father ponders the words thoughtfully, looks up, and yells to his two sons: "beat him to a pulp!" When the hero minutes later staggers to his feet badly bloodied, he tells the father, "do what you like to me, but do not harm your daughter, the angel whom I love," at which the father takes a meditative puff on his long, brass pipe, and then swings it forcefully with a grunt, cutting a gash in his daughter's forehead. Happy times in the Chinese countryside -- with no hope of change in sight!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Garlic Ballads, November 25, 2012
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I love very eccentric types of books, particulary those dealing with the Asian culture. This books fulfills that genre. While I understand it was translated from the Chinese, it is a poor translation and there are many, many mispellings to the point that sometimes you have to decipher meaning from context. It kept my attention and the intertwined stories were interesting. You wanted to know what happened next. I might suggest, though, that the explanation of how Chinese names and families are formed would be more informative if the reader read them before beginning the book and not at the end. It would then make the book more interesting.
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The Garlic Ballads: A Novel
The Garlic Ballads: A Novel by Howard Goldblatt (Paperback - November 1, 2012)
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