Many novels slalom between reality, or at least a fictional reality, and fiction. Characters step out of the fiction to be a part of the reality and real personages are sucked into the fiction. Add to this the somewhat clichéd tactic of having one of the characters writing in the fictional reality when they are also a part of the fiction and their writing becomes the real fiction of the novel. But in some novels there is room for the real to leak into the fiction and the fictional to leak into the real, the fictional real, that is.
Take Mo Yan’s excellent novel, The Republic of Wine. The story starts with an investigation into rumors that babies are being eaten at banquets in Liquorland. But then a young liquor scholar is writing stories which he sends to the well-known author Mo Yan for critical evaluation and possible publication. So the story writer sends the story to a real-life person and then the story is inserted into the overall narrative: but the story is about Liquorland and it’s inhabitants and the possible eating of babies. Just to add another layer, characters in the stories themselves tell stories and all the stories assume an aspect of the fictional reality … and then it gets even more intertwined.
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Many readers of Mo Yan’s award-winning novel, Red Sorghum, will not be familiar with sorghum even though it is one of the major cereal grains grown around the world. However, if you’re from the South, sweet sorghum (which we called sorghum molasses) might actually be a staple: hot biscuits with sorghum syrup for breakfast being a favorite. But in Mo Yan’s novel, sorghum is the major crop, sustaining entire villages in northern China early in the previous century. It is also the central image in the novel, symbolic of life and grow but also death and suffering.
The focus in Red Sorghum is the war in China against the invading Japanese that occurred in the 1930s. But it is also the story of a poor agrarian society, ruled by a feudal system and fearing local bandits, that is struggling to stay alive and also to move slowly into the Twentieth-Century. Told through an often confusing series of narrations and digressions, Red Sorghum spans three generation of a family in this rural society. From attacking the Japanese at a bridge to overpowering a rival bandit gang to improving the quality of the sorghum wine by pissing in the pot, Mo Yan’s novel is always interesting and you have a strong sense of the history of these people and, by extension, of the country.
Please read this novel. It is often brutal but also beautiful and lyrical. It will certainly convince you that the author deserves the honor of the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2012. As the academy wrote of Mo Yan:
“who with hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history and the contemporary.”
Chinese writer Mo Yan has been named the winner of the Nobel Prize in literature. The Swedish Academy, which selects the winners of the prestigious award, on Thursday praised Mo’s hallucinatory realism, saying it “merges folk tales, history and the contemporary.”
Among the works highlighted by the Nobel judges were “Red Sorghum, (1993), “The Garlic Ballads” (1995), “Big Breasts & Wide Hips (2004).
Peter Englund, the Academy secretary, said: “He’s written 11 novels and let’s say a hundred short stories. If you want to start off to get a sense of how he is writing and also get a sense of the moral core in what he is writing I would recommend ‘The Garlic Ballads.’”
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