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The Garlic Ballads by Mo Yan

The Garlic Ballads (1988)

by Mo Yan

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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350946,672 (3.87)1 / 81



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English (7)  Dutch (1)  German (1)  All languages (9)
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
First, I read only the first couple of chapters, so this review is more about what I think the book is than about what it actually is.
Dealing with peasants in post-revolutionary China, it has the potential to be another Grapes of Wrath: showing the patient survival of the scorned rural farmers, or defiance against all odds. But this book has no such aspirations. Perhaps "earthy" would be a good description, but to me that implies some bounteousness. No, foetid would be more appropriate. Scatalogical. Very descriptive, it tells us more about bodily secretions than we really care to know. ( )
  juniperSun | Jan 30, 2019 |
I felt I should have liked this novel more, if only because it is a well-structured and important work by a Nobel laureate. Perhaps I shouldn't have let the nonstop violence effected my appreciation. But there you have it. I couldn't get past the intentional and random violence that is the basis of the book.

The farmers of Paradise County now live under the harsh rule of the Communist Government. New "modern" ideas attempt to debride generations of tradition with mixed results. Some of the reforms, such as protections for women, are laudable, if loosely enforced; others, such as land reform, are mismanaged disasters. The locals resist both types of change, either behind closed doors or in a doomed attempt at collective protest. Pretentious locals, newly uplifted by the government, lord it over their former neighbors, and the threat of higher-up communist bureaucrats looms over all.

The structure of the novel is nonlinear, with stutter-steps forward and back in the chronological plot. Sometimes it was confusing, but for the most part, it worked. Instead of building suspense, this method of storytelling emphasizes inevitable outcomes. One thread holding the story together is the lamentations of the blind street singer, which begin each chapter, and eventually enter the plot itself. Two other threads running throughout the story are a ghostly white horse and the presence of certain birds. To be honest, I never solved the riddle of the meaning of these symbols.

Although I can appreciate the importance of this novel as a protest against the Chinese government and enforced communism, it is not a celebration of the traditions and rural life of the Chinese peasants. The only positive takeaway is an intermittent appreciation of the ties that bind people in adversity, but even this idea is strained and fraught with violence. The reader is left with only a sense of the hopeless struggle of life that is born and ends in violence. ( )
  labfs39 | Aug 22, 2018 |
Awful. Cryptic writing which disguises what exactly? Imagery, metaphors, and similes are uninteresting and boring. This is a Nobel prize winner? Bought the book in Penang when Katie pointed out "Large Breasts and Wide Hips". I do believe his titles are what grabs the eye because it is certainly not his writing. This is another example of how not the most deserving author will win a prize, but the one who represents a constituency that is in dire need of one. In no way am I attempting to diminish the book because of its complexity. I do believe, however, that its complexity needs someone with a clearer vision.... ( )
  untraveller | Jul 24, 2017 |
Wow, this is one heavy book. If you have never read about what life is like in rural China, this novel will make it pretty clear. Yan spares little detail to bring not only the sights and events, but the tastes and smells to the reader. The structure of the story can be a little confusing at times as he jumps back and forth between "present" and past. He also retells the same story, in many parts of the novel, from at least two different people's perspectives. Well worth reading, but be warned, it is graphic and very violent in places. ( )
  bness2 | May 23, 2017 |
A brilliant piece of subversive fiction which was banned in China, this novel was difficult to read because of the casual violence which permeated the story, within and between families, between individuals and between individuals and government representatives. I literally could only read it in small doses. However, the prose is evocative, stark, and lyrical. The plot is gripping, and the characters are fascinating. Each chapter is accompanied by a stanza from "The Garlic Ballad" which tells the tale of the uprising. The ballad was sung by one of the characters, a local minstrel, who died for his documentation of the events, perhaps a reference to government censorship. So, if you like historical fiction, want a glimpse into the life of a Chinese peasant, are curious about socialism in China, then grit your teeth and dive in! ( )
2 vote hemlokgang | May 2, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Las baladas del ajo (1989) refleja las desastrosas consecuencias de una economía dirigida. Animados por el gobierno comunista, los agricultores emprenden el cultivo del ajo en grandes extensiones de terreno. La producción es gigantesca, pero no hay suficiente demanda. Es absurdo buscar compradores, ya que en los almacenes del Estado rebosan excedentes. Las cosechas se malogran y la ruina afecta a miles de familias. Las protestas populares son reprimidas con brutalidad. Mo Yan no escatima detalles. Como un notario que levanta acta, describe la crueldad de los funcionarios policiales. Trata de escribir como si fuese un testigo impersonal: fiel a los hechos, ecuánime y justo. Relata el infortunio de unos personajes obligados a participar en un experimento político, sin espacio para las ilusiones individuales. El autor usa la literatura para rescatar a esos hombres y mujeres sin relevancia, pero que son los que configuran la historia real de la humanidad en todos los tiempos.
Los hechos que cuenta la novela no están ambientados en un pasado remoto, sino en el presente de China, y de otras naciones que empiezan a conocer las revueltas del hambre impulsadas por las diversas crisis que la sociedad mundial ha pasado en el último cuarto del siglo pasado.

Gao Yang y Gao Ma son cultivadores de ajo, familiarizados con los lemas del comunismo, pero sin esa conciencia de clase que transforma al trabajador en un sujeto ético. Solo la miseria y un amor frustrado despertarán su inconformismo, revelando las profundas tensiones que persisten en un país, donde el pasado feudal convive con el anhelo de modernidad. Gao Ma se enamorará de Crisantemo Dorado, pero la supervivencia de los contratos de matrimonio convertirá el idilio en un drama, con dosis de desesperaciones similares a las que empujan al suicidio a los personajes de Shakespeare.

Estamos ante una obra áspera y delicada, con una violencia ancestral y una ternura reservada a las grandes tragedias, que se abastecen de los estratos más profundos de una cultura. Mo Yan retrata sin disimulo alguno la vulnerabilidad del cuerpo: la carne se desgarra, los fluidos se precipitan al exterior, la dignidad se desintegra frente a la tortura. Junto a toda esta violencia hay poesía, amor, sensibilidad. Toda esta belleza aparece como paréntesis efímeros en el discurrir de la realidad.

La perspectiva crítica de Mo Yan está matizada por el realismo. En China hay corrupción, escaso respeto a los derechos humanos, la libertad de expresión está sujeta a censura, pero…, la China tradicional, la China profunda, no es menos refractaria a la modernidad. Las mujeres viven sometidas a la voluntad de sus padres y esposos, a menudo brutales e ignorantes. El problema no es el socialismo, sino la ausencia de compasión. Se hace buena la narración del pesimismo de Plauto: los hombres actúan con sus semejantes como feroces depredadores. Sin embargo esa tendencia es reversible. La ternura de una niña ciega o de un potro castaño restituyen la esperanza de un porvenir gobernado por sentimientos de fraternidad y misericordia. La escritura de Mo Yan es la obra de un visionario deslumbrado por la convicción de un futuro mejor.

» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mo Yanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Damgaard, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Goldblatt, HowardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Novelists are forever trying to distance themselves from politics, but the novel itself closes in on politics. Novelists are so concerned with "man's fate", that they tend to lose sight of their own fate. Therein lies their tragedy.
Joseph Stalin
Northeast Gaomi Township:
I was born there, I grew up there:
Even though there was plenty of misery,
These mournful ballads are for you.
First words
"Gao Yang!"
The noonday sun beat down fiercely; dusty air carried the stink of rotting garlic after a prolonged dry spell.
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This epic novel of beauty and brutality, set in a landscape at once strange and alluring, paints a portrait of a people whose fierce passions break the rigid confines of their ancient traditions. The farmers of Paradise County have been leading a hardscrabble life unchanged for generations. The Communist government has encouraged them to plant garlic, but selling the crop is not as simple as they believed. Warehouses fill up, taxes skyrocket, and government officials maltreat even those who have traveled for days to sell their harvest. A surplus on the garlic market ensues, and the farmers must watch in horror as their crops wither and rot in the fields. Families are destroyed by the random imprisonment of young and old for supposed crimes against the state. The prisoners languish in horrifying conditions in their cells, with only their strength of character and thoughts of their loved ones to save them from madness.… (more)

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Arcade Publishing

2 editions of this book were published by Arcade Publishing.

Editions: 1611452511, 1611457076

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