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286 pages, Paperback
First published April 1, 1988
(one star) 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.
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(three stars) 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 many incidents in the novel were exaggerated primarily for their shock value.
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(five stars) 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.
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(five stars) 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 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 across the duration of several events from the harvesting of the garlic crops to the storming of a government compound. Mo Yan skillfully unravels his story in bits and pieces that show each family’s degree of suffering, misfortune, and infighting.
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(five stars) 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 and personal mercy, petty disputes, greed and families in turmoil.