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Shifu, You'll Do Anything for a Laugh

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  971 ratings  ·  123 reviews
In these stories, we see the breathtaking range of Mo Yan's vision--which critics have compared to those of Tolstoy and Kafka. The stories range from the tragic to the comic, though Mo Yan's humor is always tinged with a shade of black. They embody, too, the author's deep and abiding love of his fellow man, equaled only by his intense disdain of bureaucracy and ...more
Paperback, 216 pages
Published July 16th 2003 by Arcade Publishing (first published 2001)
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Sep 03, 2015 rated it liked it
Reading this was a good exercise in expanding my personal, hopefully not too xenophobic, horizons. This collection of short stories had an interesting preface by the author, a mini autobiography describing his passion and inspiration for writing. He describes his early childhood during the cultural revolution and how he developed a resilience to adversity. He also describes the fact that he has no formal training, let alone Western influences on his writing. This is important, because you really ...more
pseudonymous chinese novelist mo yan is perhaps best known for his novels red sorghum and the republic of wine. the 2012 nobel laureate in literature, mo yan already has a half dozen novels translated into english, as well as two short story collections. shifu, you'll do anything for a laugh features eight short stories (spanning most of mo yan's career) selected for inclusion by translator howard goldblatt with the author's approval.

mo yan's introduction (recounting the forces that led to his
Jul 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
The blurb from Kenzaburo Oe on the front of the book says, quite simply, "If I were to choose a Nobel Laureate it would be Mo Yan." I think the esteemed Oe would have a good case to make. This short story collection is very revealing about Mo Yan and his purpose in writing. In his introduction, Mo discusses his direction to become a writer after a life of poverty, where a shipment of coal becomes a feast for the villagers. Several of these stories may seem incomplete at first glance, but Mo's ...more
Jan 07, 2008 rated it it was ok
Here's a case of falling in love with the author/intro, but struggling with the book. The book is a series of colorful tales played out during extreme circumstances. Loved the first tale--but not as much--those that followed. Perhaps the brutality? I would love to read Mo Yan's autobiography--he's a terifficly appealing soul. A much loved writer in China--the stories reflect his experiences with poverty and the peoples struggle.
David Schwan
Oct 11, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting collection of short stories from the noble prize winning author. I've previously read one of the authors novels. I think this collection shows the breadth of the authors skills. The descriptions of life in the stories gives the reader a vivid picture of life in rural China.
Apr 23, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: good-reads
The first and the last stories were great. The stories in the middle failed to prevent me from drifting away in my thoughts.
The “abandoned child” which was the last story amazed me with so many similarities we have with the chinese society. The female infanticide in China amid the one-child policy is woven in a story that boggles up your mind. Here’s a quote from the story:

“She is the wife of a man from Black Water Village who’s already had three children, all girls. She was hoping for a boy,
Jan 07, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, nobel
This book left me with mixed emotions. This is one of the books I set out to read as a "light" read, and in the end it turned out to have demanded a considerable amount of mental energy. Now, I have read enough to avoid the condescending idea that a piece of literature will provide an introduction to this or that culture, if anything just the opposite. Therefore, whenever I get to read literature, I seek for common, universal references, with an original voice. Perhaps it is personal, because of ...more
Jun 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: e-book, nobel-prize
Give up finishing Alice Minro short stories then reading the Mo Yan short stories book. feel like... Oh, i did the right thing

just read the intro... the misery that I've felt is nothing. at least I always have food. a good food.

Don't for a minute think there was no pleasure in our lives back then. We had fun doing lots of things. Topping the list of fun things to do was gleefully eating something we'd never considered food before.

hunger made me realize how very important food is to people.
Feb 11, 2013 rated it really liked it

I'm not sure I totally "got" (the 2012 Nobel Prize winner for Literature) Mo Yan's other-worldly symbolism at play in a few of the 8 short stories in the collection Shifu, You"ll Do Anything For A Laugh, but for the most part, all of the stories consistently grabbed my attention in various ways.

One story, "The Cure", creeped me "smooth out" (as they say here in The South), providing one of most gruesome displays I've ever encountered in fiction...even surpassing the freakishness of Chuck
Aug 19, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A pretty strong collection that is as distinct as his novels. Here you have the vicious reality of poverty, war, death intermingled with magical realism (a flying woman; railroads that become dragons; children made of metal; spirit lovers) in a way that makes the 'fantasy' necessary. Like Garcia Marquez the prose is violently beautiful, pungent with life - the sorghum crops are like limbs, the sun a hot fiery ball of blood, everything in the countryside becomes vivid and bursting with comedic ...more
Jan 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013
A marvelous selection - eight cherrypicked from a list of 80 possibles, according to the wildly inspirational preface "Hunger and Loneliness: My Muses" - that makes for an excellent introduction to The Chinese Chekhov.

The title story starts out as a story about unemployment, morphs into a story about a bang bus and ends as a ghost story.

Other stories veer into the cartoonish and surreal (i.e. hallucinogenic) territory that earned Mo the ol' Swedish Nod: children eat railroad scrap ("Iron
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Mo Yan starts the collection with some introductory boasting about his vitality as a human and prowess as a writer of stories people want to read (versus, presumably, stuffy literary material).

* "... why I became the sort of writer I am and not another Hemingway or Faulkner..."
* "...So I guess I can say I come from superior stock"
* "I possess a fertile imagination... I do know how to spin a bewitching tale..."
* "Critics ... don't think much of me. But let's see them write a story that captures a
Jul 25, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This was the first Mo Yan book I read. I hadn't known till I read this book that he had written Red Sorghum. I haven't read Red Sorghum but I had seen the movie based on the book a long long time ago and remember being impressed by it.

Mo Yan has an inimitable style. This is a book of short stories and most are steeped in symbolism which the master artfully employs to depict conditions, states and feelings of his characters. I am usually not a big one for symbolism but this had me gripped and
Mar 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars
Xian Xian
Nov 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shifu, You'll Do Anything For a Laugh: This is the first story of the book, it's more of a novella or a novelette, since it's 53 pages. Most of the short stories in this book include the theme of poverty in China. Shifu is an old factory worker who is laid off from his job, and he is unable to find a job due to his age and heath. Shifu is kind and hard-working and the last time he gets paid off is by getting fired. He is also childless and his wife depends on him to bring money home. He is also ...more
Peter Durnan
Dec 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was my first time reading short fiction by Mo Yan. His novels are vast and it was a treat to chart briefer forays through terrain recognizable from his longer work. The title piece is about a humble, inventive, humane worker - Shifu - who is fired from his decades-long job just before his retirement. It is funny and bittersweet. All the stories are. The past of the collection, about the father of a young girls who finds another child abandoned in a sunflower field, feels especially close to ...more
Thanh Nguyen-Kim
Apr 30, 2018 rated it liked it
Glad that I finally finished one of his novels... As Red Sorghum, his best work did not catch me in its first few pages... A fe pages of Red Sorghum gave me an impression of dark, cruel writting with blood ink pen, which I don't enjoy reading.
This is different, a collection of short stories that evoke laugh. It is not very funny, it's ironic. The kind of laugh in awkward, unbelievable situations. Situational laugh. You can't believe people lived like that, could do so, etc.
His stories are all
Mar 31, 2018 rated it liked it
I didn't hate these stories, but none of them really inspired me, I wanted to enjoy them, but they just left me cold. There was a story called "The Cure", which was a retelling of "Medicine", by Lu Xun, having read both, the original works on higher level, it's much more engaging. Definitely check out Lu Xun's short stories if you haven't. Maybe I'll pick up one of his novels, but this initial read was not very promising.
Jul 21, 2013 rated it liked it
Neither I love the book, nor I dislike it. It'd never grabbed me. Some of the stories are wonderful though. But
(1) Nobel Price in literature does not, at least IMHO, guarantee that one might like the book. And (2) I am tired of parables, even good ones. And it seems that anything coming from China, for some reason, is a parable.
Apr 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
What a dark, heart-wrenching, saddening piece of work this is! Packed with symbolism, it is highly evocative and represents the real life as it it was. If you like reading during the meal, don't do it with this book. All praise goes to the translator who transformed the original into such a seemingly short but entirely absorbing and challenging read.
Aug 06, 2015 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this book and it was an interesting view into chinese cultural paradigm. The stories did not always hold my attention but the writing was excellent and for the stories that did hold my attemtion i suspect i'll be thinking of the message of the story and visualized moments - for a long time. Good literary experience.
Susan Gerstein
Jul 29, 2013 rated it liked it
I am not a fan of magic realism; Mo Yan uses a lot of it. Perhaps his experiences cannot be dealt with in any other way. The translation is awkward. One feels respect for the effort, not love or enjoyment.
Jul 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
The horrors of the Sino-Japanese Wars, the Cultural Revolution, and the "Great Leap Forward," as well as the cruel superstitions of some Chinese communities are here told in the most arresting simplicity. This style of writing makes problematic social norms undeniable.
Feb 04, 2014 rated it it was ok
Like some of the other readers, as below, I found the first tale interesting but the others a little poor. I am looking forward to reading one of his actual novels to give a better insight to his narrative style, thus addressing the balance.
Sara Cherrat
Lao Ding, the exemplary employee who was dismissed from work one month before his retirement, does not only represent himself as an old communist who threw his values behind him, and let capitalism controls him in order to continue living, but also the exact image of contemporary China..
Oct 12, 2012 rated it liked it
Contrary to the title, not much laugh in any of these stories. I think Mo Yan is an 'acquired taste'. some of his writings of human cruelty, even cannibalism take a strong stomach. The last story about an abandoned girl baby is very poignant in the background of 'one child' rule.
Mar 30, 2009 rated it it was ok
Meh. I didn't *hate* this, but it wasn't my cup of tea. I read The Garlic Ballads many years ago and liked it a lot, but these short stories just seemed dashed off, incomplete, and crudely rendered.
Jul 31, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
These stories are surreal but full of earthy details of the landscapes and people of Gaomi Township, a semifictional version of the author's home. They're slapsticky, tragic, muckraking, and always humane. I look forward to reading more from Mo Yan.
Sep 06, 2014 rated it liked it
The comparisons to Marquez are valid, which should be enough to convince you to read this. This loses a star because I feel like the translation is very wooden in some aspects, especially in regards to the honorifics.
Feb 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
A quick read - I read it all in one flight from Hawaii home. Very creative, interesting variety of short stories set in China during the last half of the 20th century under Mao. Kind of amazed he can publish in China.
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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 (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
“A writer writes what he knows, in ways that are natural to him.” 29 likes
“The act of giving voice to this spiritual suffering is, in my view, the sacred duty of the writer.” 12 likes
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