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Wa by Yan Mo

Wa (edition 2009)

by Yan Mo

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Authors:Yan Mo
Info:Taibei Shi : Mai tian chu ban, 2009.
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Kikkers by Mo Yan




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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 |
Frog is the latest novel from contemporary Chinese novelist Mo Yan, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2012.

The novel is presented in five parts, with each prefaced by a letter from our narrator, Wan Zu/Xiaopao/Tadpole, an aspiring playright, to his Japanese mentor. Set in a rural community in the Shangdong province of China, the events he relates spans several decades from 1960 to around 2000.

Frog deals largely with the controversial themes of China’s one child policy with Tadpole writing about his Aunt Gugu, a skilled and popular midwife who later, as a loyal communist, becomes a reviled militant enforcer of the country’s one-child policy. Wan Zu, who plans to write a play about her, relates his observations about the effect of the reform over time on his Aunt and the members of his rural community.

It is important to note that the author, as a Chinese citizen, is forced to skirt government censorship so there is no direct criticism of China’s one child policy, which he personally opposes, and some consequences of the law, such as infanticide – where girl baby’s were murdered in order for family’s to try for a boy- are never referred to. There are some harrowing and brutal scenes, including women dragged from their homes to undergo forced late term abortions and some general examples of draconian political practices including public shaming and punishment.

Surprisingly perhaps, there is also a generous amount of humour in the story, from Wang Gan’s crush on ‘Little Lion’ to a hand drawn watch, from the rivalry between Gugu and the traditional midwives, and later her supervisor, and the often farcial events and conversations at family gatherings.

I was interested to learn that the title ‘Frog’ has multiple meanings which underscore the themes of the novel. The obvious association stems from he narrator of the story who, when writing to his mentor, signs his name as Tadpole. Less obvious to readers unfamiliar with the Chinese language is that the Chinese character for frog is a homophone for a legendary Chinese goddess who created human beings and patched up the sky, and in English the pronunciation is similar to ‘wah’, as in a baby’s cry. Additionally, in some areas of rural China, frogs are revered as symbols of fertility.

I have to admit I struggled to keep the characters straight at times, hampered by unfamiliar and similar sounding names amongst a large cast. The first three parts of the novel held my interest but it begin to wane during the last two, which includes the play Tadpole has been promising his mentor.

Frog is is not an easy read but an illuminating one, essentially a tragicomedy, exploring the collision of China’s politics with the personal. ( )
  shelleyraec | Nov 5, 2014 |
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