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Shifu, You'll Do Anything for a Laugh by Mo…

Shifu, You'll Do Anything for a Laugh

by Mo Yan

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1688105,017 (3.63)1 / 33



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English (5)  French (2)  Spanish (1)  All languages (8)
Showing 5 of 5
This is a collection of short stories (some longer) by the amazing Mo Yan. After first reading Red Sorghum, which is one of the most riveting, visceral, most affecting novels I have ever read, his other work seems quite different. For one thing, as in The Republic of Wine (see my review), he is very funny. At the same time, his writing reflects the realities of Chinese life for the past fifty or sixty years. Some of these stories might seem a bit incomplete or be less than appreciated by readers who don't have some understanding of modern Chinese history, the rise of the Communist Party, and all that implies. My rating of 3 1/2 stars isn't meant as negative, however; I just have to place this book in context with his others. I enjoyed every story, whether it was one of the more realistic ones or one of the two he says are basically fables. I also enjoyed his introduction, which seems to be a mixture of autobiographic fact and fancy. Some may be annoyed with his self-estimation of his writing ability, but the originality in this and his other works backs up his boast. Whether you fall in love with a particular story here or not, you must agree that it is original and good reading. Most of the stories are really about dealing with change, and that is something we can all identify with. ( )
  datrappert | Mar 20, 2018 |
This collection of short stories by Mo Yan contains a wide variety of of themes and serves as a great introduction to Mo Yan for those not already familiar with him. There are eight stories total but in this review I’ll focus on my favorite three: “Shifu, You’ll Do Anything For a Laugh,” “Soaring,” and “Abandoned Child.”

“Shifu, You’ll Do Anything For a Laugh” is about Ding shifu, who’s been working for the same factory for years and is mere days away from his retirement when the company decides to let go of most of their workers. The title “shifu,” is given to people who are a master of their trade, or just as a way to show respect to someone who has been working for a long time. With no hope of getting his due pension, Ding shifu has to find a new way to support his family and falls into despair. He gets a business idea when he spends an afternoon watching young couples in the park sneak off into the woods to get close. He builds a shack which he charges these young couples to use and makes a killing at it, at least until a couple comes along months later who enter the shack and then become deathly quiet. Convinced the couple has committed double suicide, Ding shifu runs around town trying to figure out what he should do. When he finally brings a police officer to the scene, they find no one in the shack. In this realistically bleak and yet humorous story the reader is left wondering what forces of nature had stepped in and brought an end to Ding shifu’s less than honorable business. Were they ghosts? Did the couple play a joke on Ding shifu for making money off of young love?

In “Soaring,” a newly wedded bride gets a look at her new groom and takes off flying– literally. The entire town gives chase, trying to coax her down as she gets further and further away from her new home. Even her own family gets involved and begs her to accept her marriage or she’ll ruin the marriage for her mute brother which was so hard to set up and is contingent upon the poor girl’s marriage. Nothing affects the flying bridge, who eventually ends up sitting in a tree with the entire crowd watching her. Finally she is shot down and killed with a bow and arrow, and the groom laments the loss of his beautiful bride. Again humor mixes with a stark portrayal of truth about how powerless bridges are in their arranged marriages.

The last story of the collection is “Abandoned Child,” which describes the terrible effects the one child policy has specifically on those who live in the rural parts of China who still cling to the belief that male children are more valuable than female. The main character finds a baby girl abandoned in a sunflower field and brings her home. His family is devastated and angry because he already has one child, a girl, and all of their hopes were for him to produce a second, male, child. He goes to the local government which suggests he go around and ask widows/widowers if they would take in the child, but he finds that these families also only want boys. Meanwhile the government official mentions that if the rescuer keeps the child, he’ll have to pay the fine for having more than one child. The story ends with the fate of the little girl unclear and the main character disgusted by the people of his hometown. This story is devoid of the humor of the previous two but the narrator of the story has a disillusioned, desperate tone that will stay with you long after you finish reading. ( )
  wangthatsea | Jan 2, 2014 |
Written by one of the most recent recipients of the Nobel Prize for Literature, this collection is an entertaining mix of phantom and reality, socio-political concern and the day-to-day business of life. The stories and characters are all enchantingly believable, even when and where they leave reality behind in favor of something more speculative, often achieving in the process a frightening version of magical realism. There's no doubt in my mind that the stories here will haunt me for some time, and draw me back to re-read and pass on the journeys to other readers.

On a side note, I haven't the faintest idea why the work is regularly labeled as a novel online--it is a collection of short stories, not interconnected by anything but the occasional theme. Regardless, this is absolutely recommended. ( )
  whitewavedarling | Dec 31, 2013 |
I was really disappointed with this book of short stories by Mo Yan. There were 8 stories in all. The first story is the longest and is about an elderly man who, after being laid off when the factory he had been working in had to downsize, becomes a surprising entrepreneur. The second is a rather convoluted story about a man's grandfather who discovers his hatred for his enemy hasn't destroyed the core of his humanity. The third story of a bride in an arranged marriage to an ugly older man is one of a fantastical escape, the ending of which was rather puzzling. The fourth story is the story I most disliked in this book, and is about a boy who turns into a rusty iron demon. The fifth story about filial piety and the desensitization of man after he has been exposed to a surfeit of violence, was, I thought the most powerful in this book. The sixth story is about an unlikely love affair between 2 young people in a re-education camp in the countryside during China's Cultural Revolution. The seventh story, I thought a rather sweet romance with a surprisingly humorous end. The eighth and last story about an abandoned baby girl highlights China's one child policy and the unimaginable number of children who are abandoned or killed.

I thought the author managed to impart his subtle messages only in the first, fifth and eighth stories. I didn't care for the others and am only thankful that it's a compact book which didn't take up a lot of my time. ( )
  cameling | Jun 30, 2013 |
Mo Yan won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2012. The Chinese writer discusses his writing in the Preface of his collection of 8 short stories in Shifu, You'll Do Anything for a Laugh. The writer grew up poor in a rural area of China and was pulled out of school to help his family with their farming work. Mo Yan was lonely and developed a habit of telling stories about his observations of his sparsely populated environment. His incessant story telling caused his mother to wonder, if he ever stopped talking. This question produced a nick name, Mo Yan that means don't speak. During his farm work, he met a writer toiling in the fields as punishment for being a right wing agitator during China's Cultural Revolution. Mo Yan liked the descriptions of the writer's life related to writing stories and being able to afford three meals a day during times of famine and restrictions of individual freedom.

1. In this collection of short stories, the title story Shifu, You'll Do Anything for a Laugh is a tale of downsizing of old factory jobs to make way for new workers in a business-booming China. It also describes social hardships resulting from dramatic economic change.

2. Man and Beast is a story of intercultural redemption and forgiveness played out on an isolated mountainside on the island of Hokkaido.

3. Soaring is a fable of perceived beauty and ugliness and societal forces that lead to tragedy and deliverance.

4. Iron Child is a fable of persecution and resilience but final acceptance of inescapable human destruction.

5. The Cure illustrates the ultimate solution to societal problems that seems to haunt all totalitarian political systems. The ultimate degradation of the human spirit turns the solution into an identification with the aggressor.

6. Love Story is a tale of young love in the failed utopia of the Cultural Revolution in the middle decades of the 20th Century in China. In spite of the political insanity, human beings continue to procreate and evolve beyond temporary "absolute truths."

7. Shen Garden explores the meaningless life of a "successful" man who turns his back on the one love relationship that could have resulted in ego integrity rather than despair.

8. Finally, Abandoned Child is the story of a common occurrence in a country where the government mandates social engineering justified by the idea that family planning will curb natural evolution and allow the establishment of a Utopian society.

Mo Yan's handpicked set of 8 stories was first published in 2001 then re-released in 2011. He set the context in the book's Preface by writing that, "Looking back some forty years, to the early 1960s, I revisit one of modern China's most bizarre periods, an era of unprecedented fanaticism." China was burdened by "economic stagnation and individual deprivation."

Mo Yan's stories reflect his development as a writer starting in the 1980s "when China opened its door to the outside world, that we finally began to face reality, as if waking from a dream." In this volume of unique short stories, the reader can see in part why Mo Yan won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2012. You can understand why some critics have labeled Mo Yan's style of writing as "psychedelic realism." ( )
  GarySeverance | Mar 23, 2013 |
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"His passion for writing shaped by his own experience of almost unimaginable poverty as a child, 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, under its yoke: 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; the young bride willing to go to any length to escape an odious, arranged marriage. Never didactic, Mo?s fiction ranges from tragedy to wicked satire, rage to whimsy, magical fable to harsh realism, from impassioned pleas on behalf of struggling workers to paeans to romantic love."--The publisher.… (more)

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Arcade Publishing

2 editions of this book were published by Arcade Publishing.

Editions: 1611452228, 1611457351

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