Today’s most revered, feared, and controversial Chinese novelist, Nobel Prize winner Mo Yan, offers a tour de force in which the real, the absurd, the comical, and the tragic are blended into a fascinating narrative. The hero—or antihero—of Mo Yan’s new novel is Ximen Nao, a landowner known for his benevolence to his peasants. His story is a deliriously unique journey and absolutely riveting tale that reveals the author’s love of a homeland beset by ills inevitable, political, and traditional.
©2006 Mo Yan. English-language translation copyright 2008, 2012 by Howard Goldblatt (P)2012 Audible, Inc.
"A wildly visceral and creative novel.... A vast, cruel, and complex story." (The New York Times Book Review)
Faced with mindless duty, when an audio book player slips into a rear pocket and mini buds pop into ears, old is made new again.
China becomes communist in the 1940s under the leadership of Mao Zedong. Communism seeks re-distribution of private land into cooperatives to benefit the many at the expense of the few. Mo Yan’s story begins with China’s communist revolution and the unjust murder and confiscation of a landowner’s farm.
The murdered landowner is Ximen Nao. After death, Ximen Nao falls into an imagined purgatory to be, presumably, cleansed of his sins. Despite severe torture, Ximen Nao refuses purgatory’s judgment of sin. In consequence, or happenstance, he is reincarnated as a donkey. The twist in his reincarnation is that he remembers his former life. Returning to life as a donkey, he meets former employees, a wife, two mistresses, and his children.
Ximen Nao, as a donkey, returns to his homeland and finds that his former employee has married one of his mistresses and is farming 6 acres of his confiscated land. Ximen Nao, as a reincarnated donkey, gains a grudging respect for his former employee. The employee steadfastly resists public ownership (becoming part of a communist co-op) and insists on being an independent farmer. (Communist China’s law allows a farmer to be independent if they choose to work the land themselves.)
Finding the right balance in life is an overriding theme in Mo Yan’s story. As the inscription on the temple of Apollo at Delphi suggests, “Nothing in excess”; Aristotle, Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain and many others have suggested moderation in all things. Mo Yan suggests that both Chinese communism and capitalism fail to offer the right balance in life.
funny, insightful, profound
It would be better read as it was difficult to follow characters because of unfamiliarity and similarity of Chinese names.
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