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Colourful and compelling Chinese epic,
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.