on 23 February 2009
The hero, by birth and his own hard work a large landowner in rural China is executed as a landlord in 1949. Infuriated at this injustice he persuades the gods in Hell to return him to his village to put things right. His wish is reluctantly granted and he returns, not as a man, but as a donkey called Blackie. He is owned by his previous employee who himself is a thorn in the side of the local communist administration and the two are as close as animal and master can be. He endures seeing his old first wife suffer for her loyalty to him and his younger wives remarrying and his children rejecting their paternity. His master refuses to join the cooperative farm and remains an independent farmer as well as totally loyal to Mao depite the local officials bumbling efforts to twist Mao's policies to suit themselves. Mo Yan's representations of the corrupt and stupid men as complete clowns is excellent. Blackie and his master have plenty of trouble and Blackie get killed.
After his heroic death he is reincarnated repeatedly as different animals and thus lives to see and participate in the modern history of China.
Through the eyes of different animals we see the famines, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, the death of Mao and the rise of Deng Xiao Ping and the economic miracle.
The action is exciting and often violent and cruel, it is told with a wryness that is very attractive. There is nothing soppy about these animals; they are brave and steadfast but always their emotions and motives are those of animals.
Goldblatt has worked on many books with Mo Yan and his translation is excellent. One is surprised that the author remains a free man (he lives in Beijing) but that is a mark of how much the PRC has changed in the past decade.
Looking for an unusual and satisfying read? Get this book, it will make you laugh (a lot) and cry (a little) what more can you ask?
on 11 February 2016
I almost hesitate to review a novel that's been translated into English like this, because it's hard if not impossible to know how much of the 'strangeness' of the text is down to the original author, and how much is just from the difficulties of translation....
This is a lengthy novel - not so much 'sprawling' as endlessly processing through one little vingette after another. It veers from hilarious scatalogical farce to greatly affecting scenes of great pathos... often within the same page. The narrative position keeps shifting from character to character (and from species to species) often unannounced, with parodies of the author's fictional alter-ego himself often creeping in. It's set in China, from 1950 to 2000, and covers the seismic changes in that society over the half century. I'd previously read criticims of Mo Yan that he was too much a thrall of the Chinese state, if these brutal, uncompromising, heavily ironic and unsanitised pictures of life under the Cultural Revolution and capitalist 1990s are the work of someone sympathetic to the government, I'd like to see what something critical of them would look like! I'm reminded of Orwell's "Animal Farm" and Mishima's "Sea of Fertility", in the book's scope, humanity and incisive bite, although with an added layer of toilet humour.
on 16 August 2014
In this translated version, I've found at least one phrase was not translated or deleted by the translator. I understand that some Chinese words and phrases may be difficult to the translator, or even to a native Chinese. However, I suppose the translator should footnote what he deliberately overlooked, instead of just letting them go. That is not a proper conduct of a translator.