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The Garlic Ballads

3.68 of 5 stars 3.68  ·  rating details  ·  881 ratings  ·  140 reviews
Now back in print, this epic novel of beauty and brutality, set in a landscape at once strange and alluring, paints a portrait of a people whose fierce passions break the rigid confines of their ancient traditions. The farmers of Paradise County have been leading a hardscrabble life unchanged for generations. The Communist government has encouraged them to plant garlic, bu ...more
Paperback, 286 pages
Published January 11th 2006 by Arcade Publishing (first published 1988)
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To Live by Yu HuaEmpress Orchid by Anchee MinShanghai Baby by Weihui ZhouWaiting by Ha JinRed Sorghum by Mo Yan
Fiction from the Chinese Mainland
17th out of 74 books — 99 voters
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur GoldenThe Painted Veil by W. Somerset MaughamSnow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa SeeGeisha, a Life by Mineko IwasakiWhite Shanghai by Elvira Baryakina
Best Orientalist Literature
24th out of 53 books — 48 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,341)
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Feb 18, 2014 Praj rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: yan,

It’s 3am and there is nothing but darkness around me. Every living soul has slipped into a deep slumber and all there is to hear is the murmur of my breathing. The pillow doesn't seem to listen to the calls of my weary neck and the tang of crisp garlic slowly creeps into the room as I recollect my early dinner. I never bothered about this tiny pungent bulb until last week. The half- torn smile on the vegetable vendor now bothers me too when I dismiss purchasing his wares. Now, all I can see in t
It feels wrong to give only 3* to a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, but I didn't enjoy this enough to give it four.

It is based on a true incident in the 1980s (though conditions described are so basic, it's a shock to realise how recent it is), when farmers rioted after the government refused to buy all the garlic it had told them to grow, because there of the resulting glut. I presume the individual characters are inventions, or composites.


Each chapter starts with a few lines
The farmers of Paradise County are encouraged by the Government to plant garlic. When the warehouses fill up and the taxes rise, the garlic begins to decompose, causing the farmers to starve. Mo Yan earned the Nobel Prize in literature 2012. The Garlic Ballads is loosely based on the true story of a revolt, taking place in 1987, against the Chinese government. The book was banned due to it's regime criticism, and I find it strange that Mo Yan has received critic as to being too vague in his clai ...more
update: i just found out that The Garlic Ballads was written in 35 days.

.... what?

this is probably one of his toughest books, with scenes that make you both afraid and disgusted, with characters that have no humanity in them and you're still forced to acknowledge that yes! indeed! they are your kin! there are bad things in this world, and then there are horrors, and the only creators of horror are us.

i feel like giving mo yan a hug. if his own experience inspired these gruesome stories... the
Roger DeBlanck
The Garlic Ballads is my first encounter with the work of Mo Yan, laureate of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature. My first reactions are that he is an extraordinary writer and that this novel is an impressive piece of politicized art. Banned in China after the massacre in Tiananmen, The Garlic Ballads exposes the injustice and indignity of the communist state while also confronting the dogged misguidance of traditionalist belief systems regarding arranged marriages. The narrative focuses primar ...more
Apr 01, 2013 Alta added it
The Garlic Ballads is less bloody than Red Sorghum, but very violent, nonetheless. To begin with, the novel has an epigraph from none other than Stalin, which is—ironically—an admonishment to novelists who try to “distance themselves from politics.” My personal guess is that Mo Yan uses the famous name as a password in order to get his “ballad”—which criticizes corrupt Chinese officials and policemen—past the censors.

This novel too has a complicated structure: each chapter is preceded by a quote
Larry Bassett
I am not going to finish this book because the violence and inhumanity seems never ending. I have read the first sixty pages filled with brutality. Then I randomly skipped to pages further into the book to see if there was any abatement of the grossness and found that there seemed not to be. Then I went to read some reviews by other GR people.

Here are several review segments:

(one star) This book wasn't for me. I can usually slog through, but really had a hard time. Other reviews seem to indicat
I just finished, and I think I will need to do some pondering, but my initial impressions of this book centers on a conflict between my understanding of China and the picture I got from this book. If Mr. Mo isn't considered a dissident by the Chinese government, then my understanding of what constitutes a "repressive" regime is way off base. This book is not at all flattering to government officials as it tells of corruption, oppression of peasants and the poorest of the poor, official injustice ...more
If you are a fan of Toni Morrison or Isabel Allende, I can almost guarantee you will like this book. This is literature, great literature, and it's coming out of China. And, Mo Yan (his pen name) is not just a writer coming out of China, he's a great writer. A great writer shows you what you need to see, what you might have overlooked or refused to acknowledge. A great writer leans in to say to you, I'm showing you this, but I'm here. You're not alone. And, after he takes you through field after ...more
What to say about The Garlic Ballads...

I suppose I will begin with the synopsis. The Garlic Ballads follows the lives of garlic-farming peasants in rural China. Two villagers, Gao Yang and Gao Ma, serve as the focal points for the story. Gao Yang is a garlic farmer with a deformed wife, a blind daughter, and a baby son. He is good-natured, but utterly hapless. He possesses an unwavering faith towards the government (it's no coincidence that his name means "sheep" in Chinese) and seems resigned t
Written by Mo Yan, winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature, and originally published in 1988, The Garlic Ballads is a harsh depiction of peasant life in China in the 1980s, when Deng Xiaoping was the country's most influential leader. While I do not doubt Mo's portrayal of the brutality and corruption of government officials, I found the extreme violence and inhumanity within and between peasant families (severe beatings and torture) a bit hard to believe. Instead, I got the sense that man ...more
When it comes to the plight of the farmer and the destitute, Mo Yan has experience in spades. Having come from Revolutionary China, he relates a tale in his introduction to Shifu, You'll Do Anything for a Laugh where his village was so poor and hungry that when a shipment of coal arrived, the people started eating the coal.

But Mo Yan doesn't take that kind of personal experience to make his work seem like communist propaganda, making the government seem ornately inhuman and the working man sain
Jake Phillips
An excellent social realism narrative draped with the overtone of struggle for justice against the evils of both the past and the present. The story of peasantry and poverty in which they live causes one to forget that this novel is actually taking place during the 1980s. The real splendor of the novel lies not in the narrative, which is very clear-cut, in the detailed descriptions, subtle insinuations, and occasionally surreal motifs that run throughout the book. Unfortunately, due to it's folk ...more
Feb 20, 2012 windy rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: fans of Chinese drama, people who aren't squeamish
Shelves: around-the-world
The government has encouraged farmers in rural China to plant garlic. Overproduction results in difficulties and finally the farmers tire of corruption and riot. Some characters are captured by the authorities and the story leading up to this is told through flashbacks. There are some fantastical segments which may be hallucinations by the characters. This is a story with a lot of brutality and suffering, but it is told with an ironic touch. (Except for one 'noble speech' by a minor character th ...more
Se lee con facilidad, pero no deslumbra. Las primeras 300 páginas de la novela carecen de tensión narrativa; el tono se mantiene invariable, y la lectura produce cierta sensación de cansancio. La historia en si misma es algo deprimente y el vocabulario empleado sencillo. Lo recomiendo esencialmente a quiénes les guste la crónica de corte político.
Stark story of life under a corrupt Communist government. Well written right to the end. I understand why the Chinese banned it after Tiananmen Square. Some powerful imagery and strong political messages here in the middle of a love story. Oh, and it won the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize.
Yair Bezalel
Suffering. In a word, that is this book. With shades of Kafka's Trial and Castle, as well as Kozinski's The Painted Bird and Orwell's 1984, this book evidences suffering at nearly every conceivable level. Along with this Mo Yan has an incredible predilection for depicting the grotesque and disgusting side of the human bodily experience. Shit, blood, semen, spit, piss, sweat, every 'inelegant' bit of bodily output is given detailed mention here.

Taken together what does this mean for the story? A
Barbara Williams
Well, it took me since April to read this damn book, BUT I DID IT. I am so glad that The Garlic Ballads is out of my life. Why, you ask? Because this book is the equivalent of reading Les Miserables. (view spoiler) Not to say that this book isn't good, but the story was depressing and for some reason it was set in 1980's but it felt like feudal China.

I know that many of my friends have stated that they will never read this book, so below I have a nice summary of M
This tale of the trials and tribulations of Chinese peasantry in the 1980's is quite compelling, particularly because it is a fairly modern story written by a Chines writer. It is however not for the faint of heart - it is a soul-destroying story about how those in power do what they like with the peasantry, who not only get crushed underfoot, but accept that it is their fate to be so. As well as class struggles, the book gives us a peek into peasnat life, arranged marriages, love, farming, and ...more
The Garlic Ballads is a beautifully written, though stark and somber work of social realism. Based on the true story of Chinese villagers in the midst of a mid-1980's garlic glut, the plot centers around peasants largely bereft of hope and their relationship with corrupt local officials. Amidst the ubiquitous stench of garlic, further stories of love, revenge and familiar relationships evolve. The author's character development is executed exquisitely and will likely evoke heartache in many read ...more
The Garlic Ballads is beautiful writing about ugly things. The communist regime are incredibly cruel to the people, with plenty of torture and crushing poverty. Women are second class citizens, also with plenty of torture. I love Mo's writing, but the subject matter makes it hard to read. I really enjoy his use of magic realism, such as an unborn child talking to its mother and the sky changing colour at significant moments. I really want to read more Mo Yan.
Gayatri Makhijani
Mo Yan and The Garlic Ballads is more magnificent than I thought it would be.

The author (and the translator) make you read with your eyes, and your ears, and your nose stuffed in bunches of garlic,

And in the end you are filled with despair, and the inevitability of fate, and love, and the lingering smell of garlic..that you cannot wash off easily...

The book is an eye-opener, into a China of the 80's, and perhaps .. a China of the now.
This book about peasant life in China set is set in the late 80s. The people suffer at the hands of an oppressive and violent totalitarian Chinese police state. The main families portrayed also engage in a lot of domestic violence (elders towards a daughter, her suitor, their sons, in laws). The author is showing the senselessness of adhering to old traditions in a way that destroys people. He's also commenting on the unfairness and corruption of a totalitarian regime that destroys lives as well ...more
This book wasn't for me. I can usually slog through, but really had a hard time. Other reviews seem to indicate that it is worth reading, so not necessarily discouraging others, but at times it seemed jerky and at others a bit too vivid - in a way that I found actually distracted and detracted from the storyline. One could argue that this is his style and is actually integral to the story but regardless, it didn't work for me here.
Linda Belote
I read this in 1998, but remember it pretty vividly still today. I'm delighted he won the 2012 Nobel Prize for literature. I dubbed this book "the wettest" one I've ever read. It seemed every page was full of human fluids, blood, vomit, urine, ... you get the picture (and it isn't pretty) but it is engrossing, and quite damning of a failing cultural revolution.
Gstn Klcsr
Buen contexto histórico, historia sencilla pero que relata con crueldad la ineficiente China comunista de mediados de los 80.
En contra tiene que a veces se complica seguir la línea narrativa y la difícil que es acostumbrarse a los nombres y los tratamientos chinos.
The beginning (and better half) of the book is more confusing than anything since there are several stories interweaved. Once they all lead together the story gets really entertaining. But for my taste, that was a little bit too late in the book.
Joyce Said
Great book. Had never heard of Mo Yan until he won the Nobel Prize and was really pleasantly surprised. His writing is a mix between China and Latin American authors with many digs at Mao. Exhilarating. Finished it worth reading.
E.C. Laurenz
Definitivamente no es un libro para cualquiera. Es duro, y crudo. Pero Mo Yan escribe maravillosamente, y aún cuando las historias de los personajes son difíciles, el estilo del autor hace que al final todo valga la pena.
This is the first Mo Yan book I’ve read – and I’ve been meaning to check him out since he was awarded the Nobel – and it certainly has put me in the mind to track down more of his works.

I love the way this book is set – the narrative order is fantastic and does an incredible job of making a fairly straightforward story compelling. Much like Gao Xingjian, Mo Yan brings day-to-day life of Communist China to life in a way that was completely unknown to me, and is likely unknown to most Western read
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Modern Chinese author, in the western world most known for his novel Red Sorghum (which was turned into a movie by the same title). Often described as the Chinese Franz Kafka or Joseph Heller.

"Mo Yan" is a pen name and means "don't speak". His real name is Guan Moye (simplified Chinese: 管谟业; traditional Chinese: 管謨業; pinyin: Guǎn Móyè).

He has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature 2012 for his
More about Mo Yan...
Red Sorghum Life and Death are Wearing Me Out Big Breasts and Wide Hips The Republic of Wine Change

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“A sudden cloud formation of birds was swallowed up by the moon, and he was just as suddenly penned in by four walls—the demons’ pen.” 3 likes
“They say officials love to serve the people, so why do they treat the common folk as enemies? Heavy taxes and under-the-table levies, like ravenous beasts, force the farmers to head for the hills. The common folk have a bellyful of grievances, but they dare not let them out. For the moment they open their mouths, electric prods close them fast.” 2 likes
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