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The Republic of Wine by Mo Yan
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The Republic of Wine

by Mo Yan

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239971,840 (3.22)1 / 46

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English (7)  Hungarian (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (9)
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Let them understand that food and drink play an important role not only in the physiological process, but in the processes of spiritual molding and aesthetic appreciation.

My wife and I were about to watch a film the other night when I spoke loudly during the previews, it is becoming increasingly difficult to appreciate film when the screen is constantly being obscured by references: I'm getting too old. My appreciation for Republic of Wine thus pivoted on these gross, overbearing metaphors: A town built on alcohol and the practice of eating of children. Where does one even begin? The literal and symbolic asides to the Cultural revolution alone boggle the modern reader. Consider me boggled and then sickened. Well, almost anyway. There was reading as gagging sublimation underway. I pushed through it, though without relief.

Mo Yan's novel reminded me of Kafka's Castle, replete with sticky tavern floors and loose women. Each chapter is punctuated by an epistolary exchanges between "Mo Yan" and a resident of Liquorville, a doctoral candidate in distilling, as well as an aspiring author. A story from the aspiring author then follows before the chief thread of the novel is resumed. I appreciated the asides and stories more than blind drunk narrative arc. This isn't for the squeamish.
( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
The unusual narrative structure fails to achieve the heights Mo Yan reached in Red Sorghum. But it still works to an extent. This book is famous for a reason.

It's funny in parts, though I presume a lot is lost in translation, and there are certainly some fascinating episodes. But that’s just it - this is a book of parts and episodes, and as a whole it doesn’t really hold. The plot-cement between the big scenes is often dull. It's more like a book of short stories rather than a novel.

Its themes are pretty complex, using food/drink/consumables as an analogy for the sublime in art and literature. It’s like a quotidian variant of Eliot’s catalytic conception of literary inspiration. This is a novel obsessed with how fiction contains external reality by engaging its readership, anticipating censorship, wrestling with its muses, etc. There’s also the carnivalesque anti-corruption stuff I didn’t really care for, though it’s probably more significant, at least in terms of the amount of words devoted to describing it. I found that side of the story a little too flat, though Mo Yan brilliantly subverts it at the end, so at least there’s that.

There’s a lot here - a lot to think about - and the book would probably benefit from a reread. Though I doubt many people would want to read this book twice. At least not in translation. ( )
  Algybama | Sep 17, 2017 |
Now, having finished The Republic of Wine, having stuck with it even as it got more and more experimental and largely remained boring throughout (though boring in a variety of ways), I'm left with absolutely no idea of what Mo Yan wanted the sum of this book to be. The framework of a detective story is quickly discarded, the short stories of Li Yidou that interconnect with the main story never lead to a payoff and aren't very interesting in their own right, and the second beginning of the same story starring the character Mo Yan is too short and too devoid of new ideas to pull the book together.

Obviously Mo Yan wasn't trying to tell a detective story with The Republic of Wine, or give us a mediocre short story collection, but I'm at a loss as to what he was trying to do. Is this a Chinese version of the Inferno, where Ding Gou'er (and later Mo Yan) walks through a land of gluttony and lust, where the sex, eating, and drinking gets more and more disgusting, with supposedly beautiful women having mouths that smell perpetually of barbecue and delicacies are fished out of the runoff in ditches? If so, it fails in comparison, as Dante gave a vision of virtue as well as vice- The Republic of Wine merely wallows in the revulsion of its sin. It's a satire of Chinese culture, at least in part, but, unlike the quick punchiness of A Modest Proposal, this book drags on far too long, and goes to such extremes, that I can't imagine it would be a piercing enough satire to wound.

It becomes experimental at the cost of coherency, and the experimental nature doesn't add anything- even if the final pages were meant to mimic the experience of being drunk, this book falls far short of Under the Volcano. Scenes that should be creepy, like a scaly imp-child sitting atop the chest of the main character and playing with a loaded gun, while that main character is passed out from having drunk far too much, are instead completely devoid of tension. Some of the book is boring because of its inability to create any excitement or to inspire any emotion besides disgust, other parts are boring because of the structure, having the reader go through numerous letters concerning submitting subpar stories for publication. Disgust, for the record, isn't an impressive emotion to inspire- thus why good horror films inspire terror, while the bad rely on gore and revulsion for easy scares. At every point in this book I was having to push myself onward, not because of any distaste for the subject matter, but just because I didn't care.

This review is a mess, I admit, but that's at least in part due to this book being a mess. Now, perhaps it was intentionally a mess, or maybe even a mess with a purpose, but even if that's the case it doesn't change the fact that I didn't find this book enjoyable or rewarding. It wasn't terrible, I suppose, but what really drops this book down to two stars is that it's such a slog. While it's only slightly over 350 pages, it felt like a book twice as long, with every page requiring effort to get through- and not in a way where that effort is rewarded. What am I left with after finishing this book that I didn't have before having read it? An aversion to trying bird's nest soup and a reluctance to read any more Mo Yan. ( )
  BayardUS | Jan 10, 2016 |
Truly bizarre from beginning to end, it is easy to see why some readers might be put off. The author weaves at least three threads here - the story of an investigator sent to Liquorland to investigate reports of babies being eaten, an exchange of letters between the author (Mo Yan himself) and a Doctor of Liquor Studies in Liquorland who is also an amateur writer, and the stories the amateur writer sends to Mo Yan. All of these threads eventually weave together into a hallucinatory ending that leaves pretty much everything unresolved. I think the author (Mo Yan, that is) is trying to say something here, but I'm not quite sure what. Nor am I sure that I need to know. The pleasures of this book, and there are many, come from the absurd scenes, whether it is the investigator trying to make love to a lady truck driver, or apes making wine, there are laughs, horrors, and grotesqueries one after the other. I think it helps to have lived some time in China, which I have, and to have made some attempt to study and understand Chinese culture to appreciate the role that food and drink play in people's lives. So no matter how extreme or ridiculous parts of the book feel, there is just an edge of reality to them that keeps you enthralled. As usual, the translation by Howard Goldblatt is superb. If you are new to the author, definitely turn to Red Sorghum, his masterpiece, first. But if you are anxious to understand a little more about his range as an author, definitely check this out. It's an immersive experience different from any you've had before. ( )
  datrappert | May 22, 2015 |
I found this was a difficult read--and not just because the e-book OCR transcription was poor. I stopped and restarted numerous times. Strong in places, the book never comes together as a coherent whole. ( )
  chris.givler | Mar 30, 2013 |
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Special Investigator Ding Gou'er of the Higher Protectorate climbed aboard a Liberation truck and set out for the Mount Luo coal mine to undertake a special investigation.
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Plagued by persistent reports of cannibalism in a province known as the Republic of Wine, the Chinese government sends a special investigator to substantiate the disturbing rumors.

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