Check This Book Out! Red Sorghum by Mo Yan

Check out the NEW BOOKS display for some items recently added to our collection. Featured this week is Red Sorghum the second novel written by the 2012 Nobel Laureate, Mo Yan. Written in 1985 and made into a movie in 1986, Red Sorghum chronicles, in a non-linear fashion, the life of a family from the Boxer Rebellion which marked the initial onset of the communist regime in China, through the second Sino-Japanese War, then onto the onset of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, and the reforms that occurred after Mao’s collapse in 1980s.

Guan Moye, whose pseudonym, Mo Yan, means ‘don’t speak’, grew up in the Northeast Gaomi Township (Google Maps), in China during the height of the Cultural Revolution. After dropping out of school during Mao’s upheaval, Mo Yan, worked as farm laborer and in a factory up until 1973. During this time Mo, would take breaks with the peasants, whom he worked with in the fields, and listen as they told tales of the past. He recounts these stories saying, “Every time a tale was told, something was added … the more times the tale was told, the richer it became” (Inge, 2000, 502). Mo himself would take this storytelling narrative and apply it to his stories, in essence, transforming history (i.e. Sino-Japanese War) into myth, thus inviting his readers to participate in the suspension of disbelief when encountering tales that are their face, fantastic and unbelievable.

In 1976, Mo Yan joined the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) which afforded him the chance at an education. Eight years later, while studying literature in PLA’s Academy, began publishing short stories. It was his second novel, Red Sorghum, which propelled him from modesty to notoriety and gave readers a glimpse of themes and literary techniques that Mo Yan would come to be known for. The story focuses on a family composed of Granddad, Grandmother, Father, and Child (who narrates the story) who lives in a fictionalized version of Mo’s Gaomi hometown. Now, at the time of its composition, characters in Chinese stories tended to be very binary, wherein they were either entirely good or entirely evil. This stemmed from a decree of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, which used these stories as a means of propaganda. Mo Yan broke this mode by introducing characters that were conflicted. For instance, Grandad was both good and bad. While he had some side issues (murderer, adulterer) he remained a hero of his community for his heroics for his actions during the Japanese resistance, worked hard as a laborer and loved his wife and family very much. This very much fits the narrative themes being constructed by Mo, who lamented the stagnation of society and the rush to urbanize. In it he felt, the rural area was becoming trivialized and he wished to display their hardships, loves, hatreds, and adventures.

In addition to his unique depiction of rural life in China, Red Sorghum, also shows the first instance of Mo experimenting stylistically with his narrative to create a feeling of hallucinatory realism, by telling the story in a combination of flash forwards and flash backs. It would eventually be this unique storytelling that would garner Mo Yan the Nobel Prize in Literature.


You can find Mo Yan’s Red Sorghum along with the rest of these books on the NEW BOOKS display this week, or CONTINUE READING for more resources on the author.

Resources on Mo Yan

Chan, S. W. (2000). From fatherland to motherland: On mo yan’s ‘red sorghum & big breasts and full hips’. World Literature Today74(3), 495.

Chuanbo, H. (2010). On Mo Yan’s War Ideas — Based on Red Sorghum, Big Breasts and Wide Hips. Asian Social Science6(5), 153-156.

Hongtao, L. (2009). Mo Yan’s Fiction and the Chinese Nativist Literary Tradition. World Literature Today83(4), 30-31.

Huang, A. Y. (2009). Mo yan as humorist. World Literature Today83(4), 32-35.

Inge, M. (2000). Mo yan through western eyes. World Literature Today74(3), 501.

Mo Yan. (2013). In Encyclopædia Britannica.

Mo Yen. (1999). In Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century.

The Real Mo Yan. (2011). Humanities32(1), 11-13.

Williford, J. (2011). Mo yan 101. Humanities32(1), 10.

Yindi, Z. (2011). The (Bio)political Novel. China Perspectives2011(4), 53-61.


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