Friday, 12 October 2012

Mo Yan

‘I awoke to find myself on Hao Dashou’s brick bed, dressed in men’s clothes. With both hands he handed me a bowl of mung bean soup, the simple fragrance of which cleared my head. I was sweating after a single bowlful, and was suddenly aware of how much I hurt and how hot my skin felt. But that cold, slimy feeling that had made me scream was already fading. I had itchy, painful blisters all over my body, I spiked a fever, and I was delirious. But I had passed an ordeal by drinking Hao Dashou’s mung bean soup; I’d shed a layer of skin, and my bones had begun to ache. I’d heard a legend about rebirth, and I knew I’d become a new person. When I regained my health, I said to Hao Dashou: “Big Brother, let’s get married.”’
~Mo Yan, from Frogs, translated by Howard Goldblatt, read full extract on Granta

When I heard that Mo Yan had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, I pulled Morning Sun: Interviews with Chinese Writers of the Lost Generation from my shelf, and quickly found him there. Scholar and author Laifong Leung presents interviews with twenty-six Chinese writers of this generation in her text, each prefaced with biographical sketch and a brief discussion of their works.

From the interview (MS):
Laifong: Do you remember the great famine?
Mo Yan: I could never forget it.I remember that my stomach became very large. It became swollen and looked a little transparent. After i ate two bowls of wild vegetable soup, I could see the green vegetables inside my intestines. There was something peculiar about that kind of wild vegetable. Our village was situated on low land. My grandma always said that heaven would help us. Strangely, after a flood, this kind of wild vegetable grew and spread throughout the lowland. It looked like tree seedlings. It's roots were edible. When cooked into soup, it tasted like rice noodles. We basically relied on this wild vegetable for two years. Amazingly, when the famine was over, it stopped growing. 

From the interview (MS):
Laifong: What was your class background? How did it affect you?
Mo Yan: My class origin was upper-middle peasant and that was not a "good" background. In our hometown, who could go to school and who could not go to school depended on the recommendation of the poor and lower-middle peasants. Because of my class origin, I was not allowed to continue my education after grade five.
Laifong: What did you do then?
Mo Yan: I had to go home to help my parents in the fields. Besides clearing the weeds, I tended the cows. In the past I had done these chores after school, now I had to do them from morning til evening.
When I was in elementary school, I loved reading. Even though my father and my uncle were poor, they had read many books. My father had eight years of traditional-style education. His thinking was influenced by Confucius, believing that studying and becoming an educated person would lead to a good career. ... my family was considered a cultured family.
Laifong: What books did you read?
Mo Yan: In the village, books based on oral tradition, such as the classic novel Water Margin [Shuihu zhuan], by Shi Nai'an (ca. 1296-1370), were quite popular. I read whatever I could get hold of.


Author Mo Yan earns praise for historical perspectives

Q + A : Howard Goldblatt and Shelley Chan

Could you compare Mo's works to those of other contemporary Chinese writers?

Goldblatt: All the best-known contemporary writers have a unique personal style; it would be unhealthy if it were otherwise. Mo tends to be more "historical" than many of his contemporaries. Whether it's the Boxer Rebellion or the "cultural revolution" (1966-76), he seems most comfortable with a historical perspective.

There are, of course, exceptions, such as POW!. Few of his works deal with up-to-date urban themes, which appear to be all the rage these days.

Mo is a "maximalist" (if there is such a word), a writer who extensively probes the Chinese language for its expressive qualities. He is, as well, a writer whose work appeals to all the senses. Finally, he is particularly apt at defamiliarization, creating new and arresting realities with his prose.

Chan: In terms of contents, Mo, like other root-seeking writers, frequently writes about his own hometown, Gaomi (in East China's Shandong province). But he writes differently. In terms of style, Mo is unique and hard to compare with anyone else. You may say sometimes he is as playful as Wang Shuo, yet it's a very different kind of playfulness.

 ~ Howard Goldblatt and Shelley Chan (China Daily)

For Mo Yan, unlike either his predecessors or his contemporaries, life in China‘s rural areas is his lived experience. … 

A legend (a story) cannot be created by one single voice; it has to be nurtured and enriched by hundreds of people, through hundreds of voices and across numerous generations. To restore the  chain reaction” of story-telling, the first person narrator, as the sole survived member of  the red sorghum clan, ultimately has to bring himself back into the story-telling process.

In a way, “I” in the novella Red Sorghum already has a voice when he authorizes the Father as the teller of the Grandfather’s stories. The indicators like “My Father told me that …” which repeatedly cap the narration of the Grandfather‘s stories, implicitly point to the function of the first person narrator “I” in the “chain” process of story-telling. The establishment of the indicative markers and the use of the indirect speeches have been created two layers of anachronic narrative: one layer consists of the more recent past with the Father as the story-teller and “I” as the listener; whereas the other layer is set in the present with the first person narrator as the story-teller and the readers as the listeners.

1 comment:

gary barwin said...

Thanks. This is great.