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Wa by Yan Mo

Wa (edition 2009)

by Yan Mo

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867140,249 (3.46)1
Authors:Yan Mo
Info:Taibei Shi : Mai tian chu ban, 2009.
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Kikkers by Mo Yan



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Free ARC from publisher through Goodreads First Reads program.

I liked this novel about a Chinese midwife who is caught up in China's population control policies. Gugu not only delivers babies, she must provide birth control information, insert IUDs, and perform abortions. The major part of the novel is told by her grand-nephew in a series of long letters. The final portion is a play based on Gugu's life. I found the play section tedious and really a slog to read.

Although the subject matter is serious and the characters struggle with difficult moral choices and tragedies, there is a warmth, humor, and sympathy in the narration. Definitely worth reading. ( )
  seeword | Feb 17, 2015 |
The narrator in Chinese Nobel laureate Mo Yan's most recent novel to be translated into English is named “Tadpole,” and he wishes to write a play about his aunt, Gugu. In Frog (Viking Adult, $27.95), Gugu, who is 70 when the story begins, survives the Japanese occupation, trains as a midwife, becomes a member of the Communist Party, suffers through the great famine, is jilted by a fiancé who defects—and endangers her position in so doing. She later embraces the “one-child” policy, and is transformed from the much-honored midwife to the hated government abortion provider. As Yan portrays the suffering of the people, there is also a—perhaps too subtle for some—criticism of the state that is the source of so much of the suffering. More than anything, Frog complicates things for Mo Yan; he's neither completely a “party hack,” nor is he a harsh critic of the state.

Review in Sacramento News & Review: http://www.newsreview.com/sacramento/ambivalent-amphibian/content?oid=16210661 ( )
  KelMunger | Feb 13, 2015 |
I admittedly went into this with a fair amount of trepidation. I read The Garlic Ballads last year and it was a miserable experience. I'm happy to say that was not the case with Frog. Just like The Garlic Ballads, it has a lot of important things to say, but this time around Mo Yan writes a book that's actually readable, instead of the garbled mess of a book I read a year ago.

Frog focuses on China's Family Planning Policy (or One-Child Policy as it is known in the west), and it is told from perspective of a playwright who grew up in a small town in Gaomi. However, It is his aunt Gugu who takes center stage, as she is an obstetrics nurse. It's interesting to see her evolution. Initially she is a savior of a sort, when many women die during childbirth due to arcane practices performed by superstitious, she is a modern science-minded and medically-trained woman who never loses a child or a mother during delivery. Then the One-Child Policy is put into place, and suddenly she is a butcher, forcing late-term abortions without a thought to the safety of the mother. It's a sad story, and it demonstrates the horrific nature of China's attempts at population control. ( )
  Ape | Jan 27, 2015 |
Frog by Mo Yan chronicles the illustrious career of an obstetrician, nicknamed Gugu. Gugu is very headstrong and stubborn; she is also a staunch communist, determined to walk the party line for a better Republic. Early in her life, she is disgraced by a fiance who defects, and perhaps to overcome this shame, she not only works harder to deliver many babies (the sweet potato babies being her first wave), but also strictly and thoroughly administer the one-child policy.

Like the reality of a nation and the myth of a strong nation where everyone is moral and good and well looked after, there is the real Gugu and the myth. Gugu reminds us that "the people need their myths." She doesn't always speak up to denounce false rumors about her abilities to birth children, but she often asks questions that try to point out the ridiculous nature of some of the claims. She is, by far, the most interesting character in the book.

With that said, it is hard to focus on Gugu, as the story meanders in too many tangents, all of which certainly have something to do with the lives of the villagers in Gugu's district and all of which are somehow affected by the births and the one-child policy, but very few provide insights into Gugu's motives and actions. The English translation carries the humor and sarcasm well, but perhaps the body-part names should have been used throughout, making it more accessible and the story easier to follow.

I am not sure if I got the reason why the author chose to have the book be letters written by a playwright to his Japanese mentor. This seemed a bit contrived, and I failed to see the utility. If there was some meta-meta-commentary on Sino-Japanese relations, I missed it. Or rather, the story itself dealt quite a lot about this, so I didn't see the point of yet another device to do it, and do it not so well. Why couldn't the playwright tell us the story of Gugu and the villagers, and in the end present his play?

The contrast between the play and the story is thought provoking. The surreal elements in the play act as great interpretations of the real, yet incredible events that took place. Perhaps the story and the play deal with Gugu's guilt a little too overtly, but it still suits the satirical and humorous tone throughout.

Overall, this engaging story could have been much tighter. Perhaps the main problem is that there was only one character that I found rather interesting and I cared about in the whole novel. And there wasn't enough of her to carry the heft of the book.

Thanks to Goodreads First Reads and the publisher for a free ARC in exchange of my honest review. ( )
  bluepigeon | Jan 16, 2015 |
2.5 Tadpole is our narrator, an aspiring playwright, he is telling the story of his Aunt Gugu. Although she started out as a midwife, she is soon trying to prove her loyalty to the party by strictly enforcing Mao's one child policy. This becomes necessary when her loyalty is questioned and she is arrested after her fiancé, a pilot, defected.

Individual responses to the changes in China under Mao, the famine and the one child policy are both horrific to experience. Late term abortions, planting of IUD's after the first birth without the mothers permission, enforced vasectomies and of course men, wanting sons after the first birth of a daughter, putting pressure on their wives.

I found this book confusing. So many names, back and forth timeline, which is very hard to do successfully and maybe just too much covered in the plot. So read it for the history, not for the story itself.

ARC from publisher. ( )
  Beamis12 | Dec 3, 2014 |
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