Aaron's Reviews > Life and Death are Wearing Me Out

Life and Death are Wearing Me Out by Mo Yan
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Aug 31, 08

bookshelves: most-recommendable, favorites
Read in August, 2008

Up until the last third or so of this book, I was ready to call it my favorite fiction book I've read this year. It still gets there, but the lukewarm finish makes it a closer call.

Still, this was a great book.

I've read a few reviews calling it the Chinese One Hundred Years of Solitude, and that isn't a bad comparison - it's got the same emphasis on one small town and one REALLY big family, lovers being torn apart by revolution, technology, the disappointment and betrayal of parents by their children, and, most of all, the need to draw a very large map to keep track of all of the major and minor characters who come scurrying in and out with extremely similar names. I'm not nearly as much of a drunk as I was in the 100 Years days and I still had a fair amount of trouble keeping everyone straight.

Basic plot goes like this: The narrator is a minor landowner who is killed in the very beginning of the Maoist purges and, through a series of tantrums, convinces the lord of the underworld to send him back to his previous life. Thing is, nasty underworld guy won't send him back as a human, so he goes back as a series of animals (donkey, ox, pig, dog, monkey) and starts each new phase literally staring back up the gloopy birth canal of his new animal mommy. Life and Death has a lot of One Hundred Years style "magical realism" nonsense, mostly pinned in the constant anthropomorphic lurches, but even for that, the elements of the supernatural aren't nearly as zany or aggressive as they were in Marquez. The reincarnation shtick is awesomely played - the narrator makes major stylistic changes to accommodate each animal and the animals are rarely boring - the donkey and pig chapters in particular are strong.

The narrative backflips aren't without their own risk of exhaustion - in some chapters (particularly the generally less good "dog chapter" towards the end of the book), the narrator switches practically every other paragraph and the book becomes a somewhat more conventional romance, though by the end of the book, things have boiled down enough that all anyone seems to do is hump and/or die.

A near perfect book until the end of the pig chapter, a very good one after that.
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message 1: by Sarahfina (new)

Sarahfina Have we talked about how awesome you are for giving A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius only one star. I love it.


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