Chinese writer Mo Yan was awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature on October 11, 2012. Born to a peasant family in 1955, Mo grew up in Gaomi, Shandong Province. He joined the People’s Liberation Army in 1976 and published his first novel in 1981 while he was serving in the army. Many of his novels are set in his hometown, Gaomi, and depict the complex life of peasants in rural China. Mo Yan is distinguished from other contemporary Chinese writers largely by his use of magical realism in his writing. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences praised his work as one where “…hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history and the contemporary.”
Mo’s work has been widely translated and his best known novel in the West is his 1986 publication Red Sorghum: A Novel of China. The novel was made into a movie titled Red Sorghum in 1987 by director Zhang Yimo. Many Westerners first learned of Mo’s work through this award-winning movie.
The Seattle Public Library owns Mo Yan’s original Chinese works as well as their English translations.
Red Sorghum: A Novel of China is a story of love between Yu Zhanao and Dai Fenglian, the grandparents of the novel’s narrator. Yu and Dai fell passionately in love in a legendary encounter. Yu later murdered Dai’s impotent husband and helped Dai to run the distillery the husband left. When the Japanese invaded the area, the two joined a local force and fiercely fought the brutal invaders.
Big Breasts and Wide Hips, an homage to the strength and greatness of women, tells an epic story of a family that spans decades from the end of the Qing Dynasty to the post Mao era.
Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out was published in 2006. Landlord Ximen Nao, who was executed during Mao’s Land Reform Movement in 1948, returned to his village reincarnated as various animals. Through the eyes of each animal, readers can see the dramatic transformations that have taken place in rural China from 1950 to 2000. This novel gives an insightful interpretation of the relationships between the land and the peasants who live on it.
For Mo Yan’s books in the original Chinese, please check out this list in the Seattle Public Library catalog.
To hear a podcast of Mo Yan’s reading at the Seattle Public Library on Jan. 5, 2009, click here.