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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Colourful and compelling Chinese epic
I still retain vivid memories of Zhang Yi Mou's film adaptation of this novel, one of the earliest in a wave of new cinema to come out of China beginning in the late 1980s that included 'Yellow Earth', 'Raise the Red Lantern', 'Farewell My Concubine' and 'Not One Less'. All of the colour and imagery, blood and death that were unforgettable on screen are directly inspired...
Published on 18 Aug. 2005 by gavinrob2001

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Needs a new (faithful and complete) translation!
This review is not about the story (readers can glean enough from older reviews) but solely about the translation. The American translator Howard Goldblatt must have been working under considerable stress, i.e. with a killer deadline, because there is so much he did not translate. I admit that "The Clan of the Red Sorghum" (that's the actual title) is not at all an easy...
Published 22 months ago by Jan De Meyer


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Needs a new (faithful and complete) translation!, 14 July 2013
By 
Jan De Meyer "jazzhermit" (Belgium) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Red Sorghum (Paperback)
This review is not about the story (readers can glean enough from older reviews) but solely about the translation. The American translator Howard Goldblatt must have been working under considerable stress, i.e. with a killer deadline, because there is so much he did not translate. I admit that "The Clan of the Red Sorghum" (that's the actual title) is not at all an easy book to read in Chinese. In his first novel Mo Yan clearly wanted to impress his readers with his knowledge of obscure vocabulary and dialect, and with impossibly long sentences. The budding author was desperately trying to show off what an original writer he was, by heaping up adjectives and by inventing highly unusual ways to describe simple things. The results are often ugly and irritating.

I know from experience that rendering this particular novel in a foreign language is extremely difficult, time-consuming and frustrating.
Yet what Goldblatt does I find hard to swallow: wherever the vocabulary gets too weird or too hard to look up in dictionaries, he skates across it; often, entire sentences and sometimes entire paragraphs are simply not translated. About three quarters into the book, a section of almost two pages long (more than one thousand Chinese characters) is simply left untranslated! All references to Marxism and to Mao Zedong are deleted too, probably because Goldblatt or his editor/publisher was afraid the American readers wouldn't want to be reminded that the narrator has a certain fondness for Marx and Mao. In this way, huge chunks of text just disappear. This is mutilation, not translation. But perhaps the greatest infidelity committed by the translator is that he gives his translation a poetic quality which the Chinese original simply lacks.

In my view, a complete and honest translation of Mo Yan's first novel would not have garnered the amount of extatic praise it received in 1993.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Colourful and compelling Chinese epic, 18 Aug. 2005
This review is from: Red Sorghum (Paperback)
I still retain vivid memories of Zhang Yi Mou's film adaptation of this novel, one of the earliest in a wave of new cinema to come out of China beginning in the late 1980s that included 'Yellow Earth', 'Raise the Red Lantern', 'Farewell My Concubine' and 'Not One Less'. All of the colour and imagery, blood and death that were unforgettable on screen are directly inspired by Mo Yan's bold, earthy, visceral writing, prose that is entirely appropriate for this engrossing, larger-than-life epic tale of three generations of a family living in China's north-eastern Shangdong Province.
In the early stages of the novel, Mo Yan intertwines events surrounding the meeting of his grandparents in the early 1920s with the conflicts and atrocities of the Sino-Japanese war in the late 1930s. As the novel progresses, Mo Yan fills in the details of the amazing lives of his parents and grandparents during the turbulent years of civil unrest under the quarrelsome warlords. Interestingly, Mo Yan sometimes gives brief one or two sentence summaries of events that occur later in the novel: surprisingly these do not diminish suspense for the reader and thereby detract from the telling of the story, but rather succeed as a stylistic literary device. Mo Yan embellishes the historical narrative with magical flourishes based on Chinese myth and legend though, except for one section in which a pack of dogs take on anthropomorphic qualities, these touches are not overdone and the realistic, historical basis of the tale is not compromised. The language and violence in Red Sorghum perfectly capture the strength of anti-Japanese fervour in China at the time, feelings that resonate to this day. Furthermore, by bringing this tale of three generations up to recent times, Mo Yan is able to offer some interesting conjecture on the inverse relationship between human values and material wealth. All in all, Red Sorghum is a compelling, blood-curdling epic that thoroughly entertains whilst giving insights into modern Chinese history.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars harrowing tale of China in the thirties, 12 Dec. 2011
This review is from: Red Sorghum (Paperback)
A novel of great intensity, takes the reader for a trip through China in the 1930s. This is the time of the Japanese occupation, and book continues through the first years of the Communist regime.

It is a novel but it will ring a bell with those who have studied the history of that period. Very graphic prose, and horrifying narration of the cruelty of that war. You don't get the strategic vision of the war here, but the local realities that affected everyday life. There are also sublime episodes of deep humanity. Not an easy read, not recommended for anyone of fragile character but one of the best books to get to the soul of China.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 'His imagery is astounding, sensual and visceral', 2 May 2013
By 
sally tarbox (aylesbury bucks uk) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Red Sorghum (Paperback)
I've only managed 38 pages of this book, which is extremely 'visceral' in its writing. As the Sino-Japanese War gets underway, the Japs are skinning Uncle Arhat alive:
'He cut off the other ear and laid it on the platter alongside the first one. Father watched the ears twitch, making thumping sounds.'

Although I've been unable to continue, I must say that even in the bit I've read, Mo Yan's vivid and poetic style shines through. You feel like you're there. It's difficult for me to give a rating based on 38 pages - I'll say 3 star but I may have had a very different view if I'd read it all.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Red Sorghum - worth reading?, 11 Feb. 2013
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This review is from: Red Sorghum (Paperback)
Red Sorghum is a brutal but compelling narrative of life in a part of rural China during the two decades up to the early 1940s. While not holding back on the merciless cruelty of the Japanese occupying forces, even more striking is Mo's depiction of the self-interested local Chinese militias under their minor warlords, viciously fighting one another as much as against the invaders. All in all, a vivid picture of a chaotic disrupted peasant society in which life, despite occasional periods of calm and temporary happiness, is generally uncertain, hard and often violently short.
Mo's writing is extremely direct but can at times be almost poetic in its portrayal of nature and the changing seasons in the sorghum fields which can serve as a metaphor for the life cycles of generations of the local peasants. But the very occasional satirical episodes of almost slapstick humour sit rather oddly with what is essentially a tragic story of unfulfilled lives and a doomed love story. Ma also seems to take a sadistic pleasure in describing extreme physical violence and the mass killing and mutilation involved in the various fights and battles. At times this delight in violence seems to be excessive and somewhat to weaken the power of the narrative as a whole. Perhaps it reflects in part the 'wuxia' tradition of violence in some Chinese literature and films.
The novel is certainly worth reading, and can as a whole fairly be described as a (minor) epic - but hardly on the scale of, say, Russian historical novels such as War and Peace or, more recently, Life and Fate.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nature and War, 3 July 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: Red Sorghum (Paperback)
Mo Yan's most famous book is set during the Japanese occupation of China during the 1930s, and deals with the disintegration of a family (and a rural society) caught up in the fighting. It's a very strong story with a dreamlike quality - simultaneously horrifically violent and hauntingly beautiful. It is an inventively structured book, remarkable in particular for the integration of human and natural themes. Not only for Sinophiles, this is a remarkable book from a great writer.
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4.0 out of 5 stars absorbing, stomach churning, thought provoking., 24 Aug. 2014
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This review is from: Red Sorghum (Kindle Edition)
Describes a period of history about which I know nothing. Astonishing descriptions bring every scene to vivid life. Some ( the wedding, the funeral, exorcisms ) are haunting and evoke a China in the more beautiful films. Many are vile as heads burst like watermelons or dogs eat rotting people. Above, below and around the red sorghum at once like a sea, then a fog and then life sustaining. Hard work but worth it
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Visceral and Vital, 20 Nov. 2012
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This review is from: Red Sorghum (Kindle Edition)
The New York Review of Books, November 2012 asked the question "Does this writer deserve the prize?" referring, of course, to Mo Yan's Nobel Literature Prize awarded 11th October 2012. I asked the same question as I began reading Red Sorghum, the most famous novel by Mo Yan (real name Guam Moye).

The epic story spans three generations of a Chinese family fighting to stay alive in the harsh climate of China's northwestern province of Shandong during the 1930s and 40s. The amoral desperation amidst famine, bandit anarchy and almost hopeless resistance of the invading Japanese army is depicted with ruthless clarity. Zhang Yimou made a film of the book in 1987 and it seems that some critics have based their judgement of this novel on the film deeming it unnecessary to read the 359 pages of print. The film has been described as nothing much more than violent pornography depicting wild sexual scenes. The "theme song, 'Sister, be gutsy, go forward,' was an unbridled endorsement of the primitive vitality of lust." ~(Liu Xiaobo).

In contrast the book is not especially sexually explicit. An horrendous rape scene is handled very cleverly with oblique description which leaves the reader in no doubt about the cruelty but provides no titillation nor anything which could be mistaken for the vitality of lust.

Cruelty is a central theme of this novel. Fathers are cruel to daughters; husbands, to wives; wives, to husbands; bandit to bandit; Japanese soldier, to Chinese soldier; peasant, to mule; dog to corpse and hero to dog. The never ending, ever-revolving carousel of cruelty is at times wearing. But this is not a sugar-coated tale. It needs to shock us. Many images will remain etched on my mind as a result of reading this novel, and that proves it is indeed a fine work of literature.

The graphic and honest portrayal of the blood and gore is remarkable. Mo Yan is a member of the People's Liberation Army (Cultural Affairs Department) and yet he does not glamorise the Chinese resistance of the Japanese invasion as other Chinese writers have done. A shocking and vivid scene presents the death by starvation of an old war hero in full view of the political elite who feast behind iron gates.

Even so, Perry Link in The New York Review suggests that Mo Yan is an establishment man, who writes from within a corrupt and cruel regime. This is, in part, true because Mo Yan is well respected and honoured in China where he is vice president of the Chinese Writers Association. While other Chinese artists have failed to express themselves and remain in favour, some imprisoned for their art, Mo Yan seems to have got away with it, but it would be quite wrong to claim that this is because he kow-tows to the state in all matters. Red Sorghum is a frank and disturbing history of a period no one else has recorded in such detail and with such brutal non-judgemental honesty. So in my opinion, on the strength a of this one book alone Mo Yan deserves the Nobel Prize for Literature.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting tale, 20 July 2013
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This review is from: Red Sorghum (Kindle Edition)
This may have been a good short story and whilst I realize the importance of the red sorghum sorghum it is used a lot within the story and almost too much
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too much colour, 13 Mar. 2013
This review is from: Red Sorghum (Paperback)
I'm sorry but I found this novel difficult to like. First, the style is very 'heavy' and overly rich. Almost every sentence has a colour in it so you really do see things in vivid technicolor and there is certainly a lot of red blood and red sorghum. There are some well-described scenes but most of them are quite harrowing. Mo Yan does achieve his purpose of showing the horrors of war but I think the book could be better with the inclusion of maps, a historical time line and far less jumping from time to time. It is not really clear why he chooses to narrate the story from the point of view of the grandson of the two main characters. This leads to confusing reading and is rather unsettling when the grandson relates so many events, thoughts and feelings which could not have been passed down to him.
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Red Sorghum
Red Sorghum by Mo Yan (Paperback - 1 May 2003)
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