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Shifu, You'll Do Anything for a Laugh [Hardcover]

Mo Yan , Yan Mo , Howard Goldblatt
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

24 Aug 2001
Mo Yan uses his talent to expose the harsh abuses of an oppressive society. In these stories he writes of those who suffer, physically and spiritually: the newly unemployed factory worker who hits upon an ingenious financial opportunity; two former lovers revisiting their passion fleetingly before returning to their spouses; young couples willing to pay for a place to share their love in private; the abandoned baby brought home by a soldier to his unsympathetic wife; the impoverished child who must subsist on a diet of iron and steel.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 189 pages
  • Publisher: Arcade Publishing (24 Aug 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1559705655
  • ISBN-13: 978-1559705653
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 14.4 x 21.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,869,239 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Mo Yan s voice will find its way into the heart of the American reader, just as Kundera and Garcia Marquez have. --Amy Tan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. Howard Goldblatt taught modern Chinese literature and culture for more than a quarter of a century. He is the foremost translator of modern and contemporary Chinese literature in the West and a former Guggenheim Fellow. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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4.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAME TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
This strange and unsettling collection of short stories by Nobel Prize winner Mo Yan is guaranteed to stick in the minds of its readers, not just because it is wonderfully written by a man whose country is not as open to foreigners as this book is, but because its reality is so far removed from what any of us have experienced or even imagined. Seven short stories and one novella create a sometimes mystical or mysterious mood, though that mood is oftentimes more akin to horror than to fantasy. Whether one should interpret some of the events described in this collection as dark humor, shocking dramatic irony, or simply as the shocking reality of the various Chinese speakers is a question which readers will have to explore on their own.

Using Northeast Gaomi Township as his setting (the fictionalized name for Dalan Township where the author lives), Mo Yan creates fast-paced narratives in which nature often plays a strong part, not a benevolent nature, but the cruel nature of "tooth and claw." In almost every story, the main character, no matter how honorable, is foiled by outside forces, and sometimes by nature - always a victim with little or no control over his life and destiny.

The seemingly light-hearted novella, "Shifu, You'll Do Anything for a Laugh," tells the story of a man who has worked hard for his entire life, suddenly terminated a month before his retirement. When he comes up with a unique way to earn a great deal of money, he feels so guilty that he eventually goes to the authorities to "confess," with surprising and darkly comic results. "Abandoned Child," by contrast, is a shocking story told by a writer (of what appears to be purple prose, judging from his introduction to this story) who finds an abandoned baby only a few hours old.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Good recycled book 27 Feb 2014
By Norma
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Good recycled book. Except for a slight sign of use on the cover, it is clean with no markings and it arrived promptly.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars 15 Aug 2014
By KTS
Format:Paperback
Quite readable
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  18 reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Kenzaburo Oe's choice for a Nobel 5 Nov 2006
By Mr. Richard K. Weems - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The blurb from Kenzaburo Oe on the front of the book says, quite simply, "If I were to choose a Nobel Laureate it would be Mo Yan." I think the esteemed Oe would have a good case to make. This short story collection is very revealing about Mo Yan and his purpose in writing. In his introduction, Mo discusses his direction to become a writer after a life of poverty, where a shipment of coal becomes a feast for the villagers. Several of these stories may seem incomplete at first glance, but Mo's introduction brings light to the fact that he is out to reveal a basic love of humanity in his work as well as a desire for justice.

In the title story, certainly and focal point of this collection, Ding Shikou is laid off from work just one month before retirement. Silly, simple man that he is, he believes the kind words of the politicians and supervisors who give him encouraging words and even tries to see them when they've invited him to come see them at any time.

But of course, they are liars, and that is what is at the root of Mo's work--the struggle of humans against powers stronger than them. Sometimes the humans take some kind of victory, as Ding Shikou does in becoming an entrepreneur by turning a rundown bus into a retreat for lovers (by the hour), but when they are victorious in any way, a price is paid. Ding suffers loss of pride, but fortunately not his humanity and in the end cannot be as greedy and ruthless as those who put him out in the first place.

It is this kind of ideal that drives the other stories in this collection as well. "Man and Beast" and "Iron Child" are tales laced with magic about the struggles of soldiers and children to maintain their humanity in the face of unmerciful Japanese soldiers or abandonment by parents. In "Man and Beast," the narrator's grandfather learns compassion even for his enemies, while in "Iron Child," an abandoned child learns to live as an iron demon. Even is fantastical tales like "Soaring," a woman who can sprout wings is surrounded by cold traditionalists who insist upon her arranged marriage.

The humans of Mo's work are beset on all sides and sometimes cannot overcome at all, but the best stories in this collection sing of the human spirit and its endless fight.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars His Muses Were Hunger and Loneliness 5 Mar 2003
By James Paris - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is a short story collection that ranges from the prosaic to the poetic. The title story ("Shifu, You'll Do Anything for a Laugh") is a delightful tale of an unemployed factory worker who gets incredibly creative and makes out like a bandit until he meets some clients that are out of this world. The Chinese director Zhang Yimou made turned this story into a film called HAPPY DAYS.
Other than the opener, my favorite stories are "Abandoned Child," which makes a strong statement about the continuing practice of female infanticide; "Love Story," about an unlikely love affair set in the countryside; the strange fantasty "Iron Child" about a possible outcome of over-industrialization; and the incredibly poetic "Man and Beast," which the author claims is a sequel to his novel RED SORGHUM (although I missed some of the references, I was enthralled).
In his preface, Mo Yan (which, by the way, is Chinese for "Don't Speak") says his muses were hunger and loneliness. In fact, the author has a unique rapport with the lives of peasants and workers, as opposed to many more intellectual writers in exile such as Gao Xingjiang. I have already read THE GARLIC BALLADS and plan to read more of this fascinating writer.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Winning Introduction to the Latest Nobel Winner 2 Nov 2012
By Roger Brunyate - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
When the Nobel Committee announced the 2012 award to Chinese writer, Mo Yan, it was a name unknown to me. So I chose this collection of short stories as a sampler. It was a fortunate decision, for the eight stories here, chosen by the excellent translator Howard Goldblatt, range over two decades of his writing and reflect a life lived through a turbulent half-century of China's history. As a group, they are strange yet engaging, fabulous yet engaged, and surprisingly easy to read.Of course, I may yet find that Mo Yan the novelist is a very different writer, but I doubt it. The author himself in his playfully candid introduction breaks with Chinese tradition in viewing his short works as every bit as important as his longer ones, and there is a consistency of concern in all these stories that I cannot imagine altering when exercised on a larger scale.

Oddly enough, the story that I would single out as distilling Mo Yan's vision is an homage to an older writer, Lu Xun. Entitled "The Cure," it depicts a father and son waiting under a high bridge to await the falling bodies of class enemies executed by the Armed Work Detachment, to gather the materials necessary for a folk remedy to cure a sick relative. The combination of stark historical realism with folklike elements that even verge on the surreal is a characteristic of all these stories, though the proportion differs in each case. "Soaring," in which a young bride develops the power to fly like a bird to escape a forced marriage, is a comic fable with an ugly twist. "Abandoned Child," the last story in the book, reads almost autobiographically in its denunciation of the official "one family one child" policy. Both attack the traditional Chinese attitude to women.

The somewhat unfortunately-named title story ("Shifu" is an honorific for a master workman) is both the longest and the most recent. Its leading character, a victim of industrial downsizing, hits on an unusual way of making money, until he encounters some even more unusual clients. Social realism with a twist. Even more twisted is "Iron Child," a surreal tale set against the very real deprivations of the Great Leap Forward, about two children who learn to eat iron in the absence of real food; Mo Yan tells a similar story of himself eating coal as a hungry child. Two of the tales, "Love Story" and "Shen Garden," are more or less straightforward romances -- a banned genre when Mo Yan began writing -- though again with a twist. Be sure to check the Translator's Introduction before reading the second of these; this is the most human of the stories, whose warmth comes from the knowledge that Shen Garden is a metaphor for a later meeting of divorced couples.

Perhaps my favorite in the collection is "Man and Beast," an almost phantasmagorical story about a soldier living out the duration of WW2 in a cave in the forest, becoming one with the animals around him, but living in fear of the foxes whose den he stole. This is an appendage to the author's RED SORGHUM, a saga set against the background of China's war with Japan. Although the story itself is relatively short, it gives a sense of what Mo Yan can do on a larger conceptual scale, and makes me eager to read his novels.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I figured I should have read at least something by this guy ... 5 Nov 2012
By Dennis Kalma - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
When he won the Noel prize for literature I figured I should have read at least something by this guy. I'm glad I did and glad I chose this for a starting point. The collection of short stories shows his mastery of a wide variety of types of storytelling. I enjoyed all of the stories and am now reading one of his longer works (The Republic of Wine).
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The marble stones in the vast halls of the emperor [in the past]...may now be the rocks on which commoners have built a pigsty" 30 Nov 2012
By Mary Whipple - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This strange and unsettling collection of short stories by Nobel Prize winner Mo Yan is guaranteed to stick in the minds of its readers, not just because it is wonderfully written by a man whose country is not as open to foreigners as this book is, but because its reality is so far removed from what any of us have experienced or even imagined. Seven short stories and one novella create a sometimes mystical or mysterious mood, though that mood is oftentimes more akin to horror than to fantasy. Whether one should interpret some of the events described in this collection as dark humor, shocking dramatic irony, or simply as the shocking reality of the various Chinese speakers is a question which readers will have to explore on their own.

Using Northeast Gaomi Township as his setting (the fictionalized name for Dalan Township where the author lives), Mo Yan creates fast-paced narratives in which nature often plays a strong part, not a benevolent nature, but the cruel nature of "tooth and claw." In almost every story, the main character, no matter how honorable, is foiled by outside forces, and sometimes by nature - always a victim with little or no control over his life and destiny.

The seemingly light-hearted novella, "Shifu, You'll Do Anything for a Laugh," tells the story of a man who has worked hard for his entire life, suddenly terminated a month before his retirement. When he comes up with a unique way to earn a great deal of money, he feels so guilty that he eventually goes to the authorities to "confess," with surprising and darkly comic results. "Abandoned Child," by contrast, is a shocking story told by a writer (of what appears to be purple prose, judging from his introduction to this story) who finds an abandoned baby only a few hours old. The baby, of course, is a girl, her fate revealing the full horror of the One Child Rule and the life of an abandoned baby, nearly always a girl, along with the long-term effects on the country.

In between these two stories are six others which suggest much about Chinese life - their long enmity with Japan, many legends and folk beliefs associated with nature, the position of women in marriage, and the belief that no matter how honorable one's intentions, the fates will conspire against personal success. The forced abandonment of children by parents conscripted to work for the state, the near starvation of country dwellers, the feeling that the individual is totally unimportant, and the fact that sex is real and love is not, are only a few of the themes which show a bleak picture of Chinese life. Happiness is not even to be a goal among the characters here. The writing is clear and unequivocal, and western readers cannot help but take notice of the contrasts between our cultures, and of these characters' power of sheer endurance in the face of hardship. Highly recommended as an introduction to Mo Yan's work.
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