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Nobel Laureate Mo Yan, Unveils China Within
|by Dr. Ratan Bhattacharjee|
On 11 October 2012, the Swedish Academy announced that Mo Yan had received the Nobel Prize in Literature in which "hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history and contemporary". Aged 57 at the time of the announcement by the Nobel Committee, Mo Yan wasthe 109th recipient of the award and the first ever resident of mainland China to receive it. He wrote eleven novels, all remarkable in the realistic picturisation take the readers to China within.
Mo Yan prefaces The Garlic Ballads with a quotation from Stalin: “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.” In both these two novels, Mo is the novelist of the countryside and may be called the Hardy of China. But while Hardy in his Wessex avoids politics, nearly all the eleven novels of Mo Yan are highly political. He depicts the violent and haunting picture of the rural society.
The Garlic Balladstells the tale of a group of Chinese peasants whose lives are dependent upon selling their garlic crop; when harvests exceed governmental estimates, officials curb the amount of garlic that can be brought to market, setting off a violent chain of events. Against this backdrop, Mo weaves presents three stories: that of two lovers, which dominates the novel, as well as a familial conflict and the relationship between two friends; the prose is nearly flawless.
Mo focuses on the paradoxes of modern China and the unchanging demands of love, family, and duty. There are also other heterogeneous elements - an arranged marriage, a botched directive from central agricultural planners, and a drunk driver with government connections. All are woven into a coherent whole through the poetic vision of Mo Yan who easily peddles in realism. A brave defense offered by a young army officer who perhaps represents the author’s voice of reason, the ringleaders are sentenced to terms in a labour camp. The Garlic Ballads is banned in China although the Random House is ready to publish it his winning of the Nobel Prize.
In the best of these stories, Mo Yan shows himself a real heir to Lu Xun, a fine Chinese writer deeply concerned with the fate of his fellow men.“Alcohol”, “Meat Boy”, “Donkey Avenue” and “Ape Liquor” like “Bon appetite! Cheers!” are multi -layered satires on corruption, and the place that food and drink play in corruption in China. Cannibalism which was widely used, most famously by Lu Xun, to demonstrate the “man-eating” despotism of the past is an interesting aspect of the Chinese tradition. It suggests in modern times the political feuds, the metaphor being retranslated into reality with people gaining power. “Soaring”, the story of Yanyan, forced into a complex arranged marriage in which she is effectively offered in part-exchange for her mute brother who marries her new sister-in-law, owes much to magical realism, an influence that Mo Yan has acknowledged elsewhere.
Mo Yan creates a realistic picture of those left behind in today’s get-rich-quick China, people who are too strongly formed by the past to compete. Other stories, like “Iron Child”, reflect the famines of the early 1960s, when Mo Yan, as a child, ate bark and coal. In “The Cure”, he resurrects the theme of a story by Lu Xun. A more satisfying story is “Abandoned Child”, where, rather than looking to Latin America, Mo Yan invokes Chinese folk magic. Foxes were traditionally believed to possess malevolent magical powers, often assuming the guise of beautiful girls, luring young men to disaster. Here, an old man rescues a wounded vixen, only to see her shot by his son, a battalion commander in the People’s Liberation Army.
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