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Red Sorghum: A Novel of China by Mo Yan

Red Sorghum: A Novel of China (original 1987; edition 1994)

by Mo Yan, Howard Goldblatt

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6783014,094 (3.78)1 / 88
Title:Red Sorghum: A Novel of China
Authors:Mo Yan
Other authors:Howard Goldblatt
Info:Penguin Books (1994), Paperback, 368 pages
Collections:Your library

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Red Sorghum by Mo Yan (1987)



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English (24)  German (2)  Piratical (1)  French (1)  Dutch (1)  Italian (1)  All (30)
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
One of the slowest of slow-burns around. The back-and-forth temporality does nothing but annoy until the very end, when the final few chapters retroactively supply the missing emotional core of the novel, and a few characters who suffered terribly at the beginning finally became sympathetic. It’s a powerful emotional twist of an ending, since they suffered before you cared for them, and suddenly you’re confronted with your own lack of affect and compassion throughout 400 or so pages of pure misery. It’s one of the oddest endings I’ve ever read; it basically sacrifices the entirety of the story’s drama in order detonate it all at the end.

While I would agree with critics that the descriptions of nature are deeply felt and observed, it’s Mo Yan's naturalistic similes that take the cake in terms of style. But they're still nothing in comparison to the glory of his narrative structure.

Highly recommended for people who appreciate nonlinear stories. ( )
  Algybama | Jun 15, 2017 |
I persevered to the end but honestly, I should have abandoned this book. I found the graphic descriptions of war, famine and atrocities ranged from unpleasant to nauseating and the back and forth timeline didn't seem to add anything to the plot. Perhaps there's a message in this to today's Chinese readers that I didn't get - I hope so because otherwise this book is just wallowing in misery and disgusting images. ( )
  leslie.98 | Nov 4, 2016 |
Copied from another's review: "Over decades that seem but a moment in time, lines of scarlet figures shuttled among the sorghum stalks to weave a vast human tapestry. They killed, they looted, and they defended their country in a valiant, stirring ballet that makes us unfilial descendants who now occupy the land pale by comparison. Surrounded by progress, I feel a nagging sense of our species' regression." Thus the narrator of Mo Yan's novel states the theme of Red Sorghum.

The setting for the novel is the author's native village of Northeast Gaomi Township in the province of Shandong near the tip of the Chinese peninsula that points toward Korea. Most of the events in the novel take place between 1923 and 1941. During the first part of that period the region was loosely governed by one of China's many warlords. In 1937 the Japanese occupied the province, leading to years of violent repression and resistance.

The narrative timeline is complex. The first-person narrator revisits his home town in the 1980s to construct his family's history. He begins his account in 1939 as his father, a teenage boy at the time, is preparing to participate in a partisan ambush of a Japanese convoy. This battle will be the central event in the novel. The story then shifts back to 1923 for the marriage of the narrator's paternal grandmother. These shifts in time occur frequently throughout the novel as though the principal characters are remembering their past, with the 1939-1941 timeline being the principal one.

Though the characters' proper names are given, they are chiefly referred to by relationship as "Granddad," "Grandma," "Father," "Little Auntie," etc., thus reaffirming the narrator's invisible presence. Grandma, a remarkably strong and free-spirited woman, inherits a distillery while still a teenage girl and proves more than equal to the task of managing it. Granddad, a large and violent man, begins his career while still a boy by murdering his mother's lover, then alternates between manual labor and banditry until emerging as a feared guerrilla warrior after the Japanese invasion. The relationship between these two is both passionate and tempestuous.

Violence and passion prevail in this story of remarkable heroism, brutality, treachery and suffering. When the Chinese partisan bands aren't fighting the Japanese, they are fighting each other for control of weapons and food supplies. The primitive, defiant individualism and amorality of Granddad and his contemporaries brings to mind the Old West of Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian.

Mo Yan's style of writing verges on magical realism, with its sensuality and capriciousness, but there is nothing disarmingly "magic" about it. The environment is a real as it can be, with every scene oozing blood, sweat, mud, pus, sap or semen. Red Sorghum is a harrowing, earthy and unforgettable immersion in the violent and tragic lives of its characters. ( )
  flashflood42 | Nov 2, 2016 |
This is the most heartbreaking book. It made me cringe all throughout. I will write a proper review later; for the moment, I am overwhelmed. ( )
  pathogenik | Feb 18, 2016 |
This is a very moving and beautifully written story, but it contains unbelievable amounts of violence. It begins with the arranged marriage of a beautiful 16 year old girl to a leprous boy from a wealthy family of distillers. The girl is attracted to a bearer of her sedan chair and they have a passionate encounter in a field leading to the birth of the protagonist. The
handsome sturdy bearer murders the leper and his father leaving his sweetheart in charge of the distillery. She becomes a very successful businesswoman, and her sweetheart works for her happily. The novel proceeds through civil war, and the occupation of the Japanese. The descriptions of murderous thuggery is epitomized by the skinning alive of the family retainer/business overseer. There are scenes of dogs eating corpses, and fields of the dead too many to bury who are thrown into the river. This book has more violence than any I have ever read, but it is written in a very poetic although not flowery style. Here is a story of war where the battlefields are right in the center of village life, and where the armies begin as your friends and neighbors, then as the alien invaders. If you have a strong stomach for violence, it is a powerful book. It may also reflect the realities of those wars. Civil war in China only ended in 1950. Mo Yan lived in the province he writes about. I cannot tell how much is fiction and how much is history, but I think it is a great book. ( )
4 vote almigwin | Feb 16, 2015 |
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Mo Yanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Goldblatt, HowardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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With this book I repsectfully invoke the heroic, aggrieved souls wandering in the boundless bright-red sorghum fields of my hometown. As your unfilial son, I am prepared to carve out my heart, marinate it in soy sauce, have it minced and placed in three bowls, and lay it out as an offering in a field of sorhum. Partake of it in good health!
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The ninth day of the eighth lunar month, 1939. My father, a bandit's offspring who had passed his fifteenth birthday, was joining the forces of Commander Yu Zhan'ao, a man destined to become a legendary hero, to ambush a Japanese convoy on the Jiao-Ping highway.
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A novel of family, myth, and memory set during the fratricidal barbarity of 1930s China follows the Chinese as they battle the Japanese and each other.

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