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Vitlöksballaderna by Mo Yan

Vitlöksballaderna (original 1988; edition 2012)

by Mo Yan

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268542,397 (3.94)1 / 75
Authors:Mo Yan
Info:Bokförlaget HörOpp, 2012
Collections:Your library, Just read
Tags:fiction, china, valise

Work details

The Garlic Ballads: A Novel by Mo Yan (1988)



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English (3)  Dutch (1)  German (1)  All languages (5)
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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! ( )
1 vote hemlokgang | May 2, 2015 |
Garlic Ballads is a stomach-turning look into the effects of a corrupt government's control over a rural farming community, and it should be highly regarded among torture porn enthusiasts and urine fetishists. In the late 80's, farmers are forced to plant nothing but garlic, and they are only allowed to sell their product directly to the government. Once they are satisfied with the amount of garlic they have, they quit buying, and farmers who haven't sold are left with a year of farming wasted and a rotting garlic crop.

The book discusses this while a small group of local farmers are tortured for committing retaliatory crimes against the aforementioned government, which leads to a very stilted, awkward, nonlinear storyline that I found more annoying than anything. The book also completely lacks contrast, it's just doom torture pain blood piss violence gore, and it never really lets up. Yes, I get the point, it's a terrible situation, but it loses its effect after 50 pages and just becomes tedious about halfway through the novel.

I totally understand the validity of The Garlic Ballads on an intellectual level. Mo Yan has some important things to say and I think it was very courageous of him to write it. Nevertheless, it lacks a certain elegance or skill, and the brutish nature of the novel - however appropriate - led to an unsatisfactory read for me. ( )
1 vote Ape | May 22, 2014 |
first published as Tiantang suan tai zhi ge in magazine form, 1988

It's 1987 and supply management has come to the garlic farmers of northeast Gaomi township, Not only that, every farmer is now a garlic farmer, for the state is not buying any other crop. Garlic is not something that can be succession planted over long periods and harvested in waves like leaf lettuce. When it is ready, that's it. Off it goes in a race to the purchasing agents, for who knows how long it will take for them to fulfill their unannounced quota. If they stop buying before you get a chance to sell, your garlic crop and farming year are wasted.

As The Garlic Ballads opens, we know none of this. Instead, we meet Gao Yang as he is being arrested for being part of a mob that destroyed the county offices. Mo then takes us back to harvest time, when the peasants used whatever means they could to transport their garlic to the commodity exchange warehouse. Funnelling in from around the county to the one road leading there, a sense of urgency and controlled panic grows as the fear of a lost year catches up with each farmer. Carts break down, loads spill and eventually the road becomes impassable.

Venal petty officials trawl the trapped peasants, collecting unofficial taxes for such things as a highway toll, commodity exchange tax, and even sanitation fines when donkeys deposit their own contributions on the road. Can't pay? These helpful officials will take it in kind; just hand over a pound or two of that garlic. Suddenly, the announcement comes; the warehouse is full and no one knows when more garlic will be purchased. Go home and take your garlic with you.

After a week of this daily charade, the peasants protest at the County Office and a riot ensues when no one will hear them out.

Most of the story during the harvest and over this week of selling, but the narration moves back and forth over the events in a non linear fashion. We hear the stories of other farmers, especially that of Gao Yan's cousin, Gao Ma and his girlfriend Fang Jinju. Their horrific love story reveals a rural society still deeply mired in the old customs. Poverty, arranged marriages, beatings, threats and retaliations all work against them.

Despite the unrelenting sense of hopelessness about life improving, there it a humour and kindness between casual acquaintances in day to day life, that contrasts sharply with the deeper divisions that occur between people more closely bound together by family or circumstance. However, add incarceration and torture, several suicides, a condemned prisoner and corruption all around, and it is easy to see why this book was originally banned in China. Mo Yan has had an official change in fortune since then, but this novel shows him at the time of his most forceful criticism of the authorities.

Each chapter starts with a verse from the ballad of Zhang Kou, the blind minstrel who chronicles the garlic harvest, the glut and its fallout, sometimes criticizing, sometimes inciting, always narrating for the people's record. Pray listen, my fellow villagers, to
Zhang Kou's tale of the mortal world and Paradise!

Green garlic and white garlic to fry fish and meat,
Black garlic and rotten garlic to make a compost heap...

Townsfold, stick out your chests, show what you're made of---
Hand in hand we will advance to the seat of power!...

Anyone not afraid of being hacked to pieces
Can unseat a party secretary or county administrator...

The Communist Party, which didn't fear the Jap devils---
Is it now afraid to listen to its own people?


My edition, published by Arcade from the 1989 Taiwan Hung-fan edition, says "Parts of Chapter Nineteen and all of Chapter Twenty have been revised in conjunction with the author". Since these are the last two chapters, I'd like to know how they read originally.
  SassyLassy | Apr 11, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mo Yanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
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.
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"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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