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Sandalwood Death by Mo Yan
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Sandalwood Death

by Mo Yan

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875138,736 (3.75)1 / 17

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French (2)  English (1)  Italian (1)  Spanish (1)  All (5)
Both the author and the translator admit in the preface and afterword that this novel is impossible to properly translate. Yet even through a linguistic gauze screen, Sandalwood Death is a masterpiece of contemporary Chinese fiction and of outstanding literary translation.

Set in the same remote township in which his other novels take place, at the turn of the 20th Century, an executioner, an opera performer turned rebel, their married children--a butcher and a dog meat seller--and a county magistrate each act roles in a sweeping narrative of loyalty and betrayal. Germans have entered the county to build a railroad, ruthlessly demolishing fields and villages, shooting anyone who stands in their way, provoking a local opera troupe to take up the cause of resistance, while a county official must interrupt his easy life of decadence and adultery, and grapple between personal ethics and his conflicting obligations to family and to the imperial court, when compelled to order the cruelest execution possible for his son's own father-in-law. Mo Yan said he tried to convey the story as if delivered on stage by a hoarse opera singer, and it certainly comes across as a grand theatrical drama. Each chapter is its own set piece, interspersed with song and oratorio.

The excruciatingly detailed descriptions of various methods of execution can be stomach-turning, and Mo Yan's writing is characterized by sensuous descriptions of blood, soil and shit. Some basic knowledge of the Boxer Rebellion and the mysticism behind it, and some acquaintance with traditional Chinese opera, are both helpful in appreciating the novel's structure as well as its details. All together, it's gripping but not an easy read, and newcomers to Mo Yan are advised to begin with his earlier novels such as The Garlic Ballads and Red Sorghum. ( )
  Feign | Mar 26, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mo Yanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Goldblatt, HowardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Sun Meiniang interacts with the three men in her life during the Boxer Rebellion, including Sun Bing, her father and a leader of the rebellion, who is destined to come to a cruel end.

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