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The Garlic Ballads

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  1,656 Ratings  ·  232 Reviews
The peasants of Paradise County have been living a hardscrabble existence virtually unchanged for hundreds of years, until a 1987 glut on the garlic market forces them to watch the crop that is their lifeblood wilt, rot, and blacken in the fields - leading them to storm the seat of corrupt Communist officialdom in an apocalyptic riot. Against this epic backdrop unfold thre ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published July 1st 1996 by Penguin Books (first published April 1st 1988)
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Feb 18, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Probably not the most prudent holiday-read selection, Nobel Prize winner Mo Yan's The Garlic Ballads was a relentlessly bleak look at oppression during the Deng Xiaoping era. The story of a quashed revolt by garlic farmers against the Communist regime in the mid '80s was heavy on atmospherics (the redolence of the garlic glut, and ensuing horrifics of post-riot prison life seeped in my pores) but lacking in subtlety and whimsy that made the similarly themed Shifu, You'll Do Anything For a Laug ...more
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
Roger DeBlanck
Nov 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Mo Yan is an extraordinary writer and The Garlic Ballads is an impressive novel of politicized art. Banned in China after the massacre in Tiananmen, the book exposes the injustice and indignity of the communist state while also confronting the dogged misguidance of traditionalist belief systems, such as arranged marriages. The narrative focuses primarily on the struggles of two families, those of garlic farmers Gao Yang and Fang Yunqui. The tragedies that befall them interweave back and forth ac ...more
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
Ana  Vlădescu
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
Scoperto per caso su anobii, me lo ritrovo sullo scaffale mentre curioso in libreria a Castelnuovo e non me lo faccio scappare. Il buon profumo di carta delle pagine fa da contrasto all'odore di aglio del titolo.

Secondo libro che leggo di un autore cinese nel giro di poco tempo e che si ricollega direttamente con il primo, letto poche settimane fa: se nel libro di Rong l'ottusità del regime è la causa della distruzione e desertificazione della prateria mongola, qui la stessa ottusità causa lo sf
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
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
Sep 21, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jul 11, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nguyễn Quang Vũ
Vẫn là phong cách đúng chất Mạc Ngôn, giản dị mà dữ dội. Ở văn chương của ông, người ta luôn thấy hai khía cạnh đấy đan xen nhau, cứ như là một. Mình chưa bao giờ phải khó nhọc để đọc một tác phẩm của Mạc Ngôn cả, bất luận dung lượng của nó là năm bảy trăm trang hay chỉ dưới một trăm trang.

Nếu như "Đàn hương hình" là cái dữ dội đau đớn len lỏi trong từng thớ thịt thì "Cây tỏi nổi giận" là cái đau đớn trong sự bất lực của những người nông dân khi phải đương đầu với tầng lớp quan lại mới, quan liê
Nov 20, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 11, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 21, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
Al fin.
Me demoré un montón en terminarlo porque no estaba realmente metida en la historia, tenia una confusión horrible de nombres y en verdad debería cambiar mi habito de leerlos solo una vez y luego obviarlos porque, sobre todo con nombres tan parecidos como Gao Ma y Gao Yang, la cosa no me esta funcionando.

Sinceramente todo el libro es confuso, esta contado en dos tiempos uno siguiendo a cada protagonista y nunca sabes muy bien que cosa pasó primero, cuál es un recuerdo,cuanto maldito tiempo
Oct 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned-books
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
Feb 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jake Phillips
Oct 13, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Apr 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
May 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ispirato a un fatto realmente accaduto 'Le canzoni dell' aglio' è un romanzo forte e schietto che si avvicina molto a un manifesto di denuncia. Nella Cina degli anni 80 una politica agricola folle obbliga i contadini di questa cittadina fittizia a dedicarsi esclusivamente alle piantagioni di aglio;ciò causa ovviamente un eccesso nel mercato di aglio a scapito degli altri prodotti agricoli causando una vera e propria crisi economica che va tutta a discapito dei contadini più poveri. É proprio in ...more
Apr 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Although as expertly written and pertinent as anything I've yet read by Mo Yan, I found The Garlic Ballads slow going. It was a brutal tale told without magical flourishes, narrative experimentation or humor. Each step of the story is a delineation of horrible events -- one after the other -- until we feel that we've learned more about what terrible, harsh lives these characters are forced to endure than we ever would have wanted. Manslaughter, child abuse, police brutality, lice ridden jails, f ...more
Fuad Chacón
Jul 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Novela negra por excelencia, algunas escenas se relatan de forma cruda, pero eso no les quita su encanto. Tiene pasajes memorables, descritos de forma exquisita. Es increíble la forma como la vida de todo un condado está inexorablemente atada al destino mismo del ajo que cultivan.
Chelsea Mcgill
Jan 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recent
From my blog:

The farmers in Paradise County are normal, law-abiding citizens under the Chinese communist regime. They follow the government's orders to plant a bumper crop of garlic, only to end up with piles of unsellable rotting crops as warehouses fill up and prices drop precipitously. When the government does nothing to help the crowds of farmers struggling to move their goods anywhere but back home, the ordinary citizens are forced to take extreme me
Yair Ben-Zvi
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
Mar 15, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: verona-library
Quando l’odore dell’organico scuote.

Pensava a Gao Ma, pero’ non osava guardare il suo campo. Eppure il pensiero di lui le accendeva il desiderio di rivolgere lo sguardo in quella direzione. Il vento continuava a soffiare agitando le piante e facendole frusciare. Tuttavia le pannocchie e le spighe, ormai secche, non potevano piu’ muoversi come quando erano verdi, quando le foglie color smeraldo avevano fluttuato come nastri di morbida seta formando fresche onde, quando lei e Gao Ma, distesi nel c
May 18, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
THE GARLIC BALLADS. (1988). Mo Yan. **.
The author of this novel was the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2012. It is my first encounter with his work, and, I have to admit, was not very successful. His writing style is – to say the least – different from what I have come to expect from Chinese writers. The words confusing and scrambled come to mind. This particular novel was later banned in China after the events at Tiananmen Square and the accompanying massacre. The story is set in a
Feb 29, 2012 rated it liked it
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
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Which book of Mo Yan's would you recommend. 1 3 Oct 08, 2015 12:15PM  
Unexpected Turns 1 9 Dec 11, 2013 03:09AM  
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  • My Life as Emperor
  • I Love Dollars And Other Stories of China
  • Beijing Coma
  • The Real Story of Ah-Q and Other Tales of China: The Complete Fiction of Lu Xun
  • Village of Stone
  • To Live
  • Chairman Mao Would Not Be Amused: Fiction from Today's China
  • Grass Soup
  • One Man's Bible
  • Border Town
  • A Dictionary of Maqiao
  • The Last Quarter of the Moon
  • Leave Me Alone: A Novel of Chengdu
  • Rickshaw Boy
  • Please Don't Call Me Human
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" 莫言) 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
More about Mo Yan...

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“Dear brother," Number Two replied, "I can eat shit, I just don't like the taste.” 5 likes
“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.” 4 likes
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