Skip to main content

Global Reading Challenge: Red Sorghum by Mo Yan

Genre: Literary novel
Year of publication: 1987 (English translation: 1993)
Setting & time: Rural China, mostly in the 1920s and 30s

This novel takes place in Shandong Province in eastern China, mostly before and during the second Sino-Japanese war. The narrative jumps back and forth between times and characters, but at the heart of it is a dramatic family story that begins in the 1920s when a greedy father sells his daughter into marriage with a leprous wine distiller and one of the men who escorted her to the wedding falls in love with her. The story is told by a narrator, the grandson of the central couple, who recounts their histories before and after they met, and the consequences of their meeting as they echo down the years.

The story is about tough, resilient and passionate peasants who are repeatedly driven to extremes by internal and external situations, during a tumultuous time in Chinese history. The descriptions of the war are often grotesquely and viscerally realistic, and the people are often ruled more by their passions than by rational thought, but they are always true to their character and as you eventually begin to know what drives them they become sympathetic and very real. Witness to all the events and weaving like a red thread through the whole story is the red sorghum grown in Shandong, from which the narrator’s grandmother brews her famous wine.

The novel is beautifully translated by Howard Goldblatt and, well, I don’t really know what else there is to say without resorting to superlatives, of which it is more than deserving, but which I am not fond of using (much). Let’s just say that this is a cracking good read of a literary novel that I heartily recommend. 5 stars.

Now I only have the Oceania book left and the challenge will be finished!


Dorte H said…
This one sounds really good, and the cover seems to suit the story superbly.
Bibliophile said…
Dorte, it's a great book. Not a book I would read again, but I'm glad I did. A work-mate of mine, who has a degree in Chinese, has recommended the movie to me. I just hope I can find it.
Eva said…
Red Sorghum sounds great! Thanks for the rec. :)

Popular posts from this blog

Book 40: The Martian by Andy Weir, audiobook read by Wil Wheaton

Note : This will be a general scattershot discussion about my thoughts on the book and the movie, and not a cohesive review. When movies are based on books I am interested in reading but haven't yet read, I generally wait to read the book until I have seen the movie, but when a movie is made based on a book I have already read, I try to abstain from rereading the book until I have seen the movie. The reason is simple: I am one of those people who can be reduced to near-incoherent rage when a movie severely alters the perfectly good story line of a beloved book, changes the ending beyond recognition or adds unnecessarily to the story ( The Hobbit , anyone?) without any apparent reason. I don't mind omissions of unnecessary parts so much (I did not, for example, become enraged to find Tom Bombadil missing from The Lord of the Rings ), because one expects that - movies based on books would be TV-series long if they tried to include everything, so the material must be pared down

List love: 10 recommended stories with cross-dressing characters

This trope is almost as old as literature, what with Achilles, Hercules and Athena all cross-dressing in the Greek myths, Thor and Odin disguising themselves as women in the Norse myths, and Arjuna doing the same in the Mahabaratha. In modern times it is most common in romance novels, especially historicals in which a heroine often spends part of the book disguised as a boy, the hero sometimes falling for her while thinking she is a boy. Occasionally a hero will cross-dress, using a female disguise to avoid recognition or to gain access to someplace where he would never be able to go as a man. However, the trope isn’t just found in romances, as may be seen in the list below, in which I recommend stories with a variety of cross-dressing characters. Unfortunately I was only able to dredge up from the depths of my memory two book-length stories I had read in which men cross-dress, so this is mostly a list of women dressed as men. Ghost Riders by Sharyn McCrumb. One of the interwove

First book of 2020: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach (reading notes)

I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but I loathe movie tie-in book covers because I feel they are (often) trying to tell me how I should see the characters in the book. The edition of Deborah Moggach's These Foolish Things that I read takes it one step further and changes the title of the book into the title of the film version as well as having photos of the ensemble cast on the cover. Fortunately it has been a long while since I watched the movie, so I couldn't even remember who played whom in the film, and I think it's perfectly understandable to try to cash in on the movie's success by rebranding the book. Even with a few years between watching the film and reading the book, I could see that the story had been altered, e.g. by having the Marigold Hotel's owner/manager be single and having a romance, instead being of unhappily married to an (understandably, I thought) shrewish wife. It also conflates Sonny, the wheeler dealer behind the retireme