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The Garlic Ballads

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  2,277 ratings  ·  298 reviews
The farmers of Paradise County have been leading a hardscrabble life unchanged for generations. The Communist government has encouraged them to plant garlic, but selling the crop is not as simple as they believed. Warehouses fill up, taxes skyrocket, and government officials maltreat even those who have traveled for days to sell their harvest. A surplus on the garlic marke ...more
Paperback, 286 pages
Published January 11th 2006 by Arcade Publishing (first published April 1st 1988)
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Average rating 3.73  · 
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Feb 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Kevin Shepherd
"She smacked him on the rear. "How am I supposed to stick a needle in something this tight?" What more could I ask of life? An aristocratic woman like this doesn't even care how dirty I am. She smacked my grimy ass with her clean hand! I could die here and now with no regrets." (pg. 167)

Irréversible is a fantastic 2002 French film. Have you seen it? It is stylistic and artful, exquisitely scripted and beautifully composed. The first time I watched it I was awestruck. To this day it remains one o
Dec 12, 2015 rated it liked it
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
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
Apr 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Mo Yan in this beautifully written poetic book has the ability to draw you in to the suffering of his characters. He knows how to touch one’s soul. I felt very disturbed by what I was reading, and while I loved this book, I knew that I could read no more about torture. I have yet to try another book written by him because they are all the same, maybe worse.

He deserved winning the Nobel Prize for his works, and that is about all I can say. I should have written that it was about farmers in China
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
Sep 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: chinese-take-out
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
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
Jul 07, 2019 added it
"As an initial probe, he picked up a flowering cactus in a shallow red-and-pink vase and flung it at a window whose glass was polished until it shone. It parted without a murmur, allowing the vase and its contents to pass slowly through. He ran to the window in time to see the red-and-pink vase, the green cactus, and shards of window glass dance and skitter across the concrete ground. The vase broke, the detached petals scattered in all directions. A gratifying sight. "
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 indica
Dec 11, 2012 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
Apr 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.
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
Jul 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brutal, unyielding, and flummoxing in its violent telling, The Garlic Ballads may have been more aptly titled, The Garlic Laments. This book is shocking and nearly absurd in its rampaging cruelty. I spent most of my time reading it with my eyes bulging from their sockets and my mouth agape. The inhumanity, the senseless, unthinking savagery that human beings are capable of meting our to one another is extraordinary and ghoulish. In these 300 pages I have come across more spilled blood, guts, gor ...more
Zeineb Nouira
Jan 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I always find Asian literature to be one of a to say it...RAW. Yes, that is the perfect word that describes such a reading experience conveyed by this book. Mo Yan's story-telling abilities will leave one disgusted, empathatic, frightened and relieved while witnessing the desolation of Chinese men and women whose lives converge towards one certainty: suffering. These are certaintly ballads, odes of oppression in Maoist China that claimed to bring about a liberation. The Communis ...more
Nov 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
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
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
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
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
Apr 30, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: favorites
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
Apr 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 29, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Anna Petra
Jun 29, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a fantastic book! I loved it. They way Mo Yan tells the story in small fractions keeps the reader on his/her toes. Sure, it is disgusting with all the blood, faeces etc, but this is unfortunately how it is in some areas in China, and I am sure it was worse in 1988. Behind of the dirt, the smells and the shouting, is a beautiful lovestory, and a tragic tale of family and rotten public systems.

I truly enjoyed the book, even though I would have a bit higher expectations of linguistic capabi
Oct 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
One of the most depressing page-turners I've ever read, with a plot paced like a thriller, but instead of cops or terrorists there are poor garlic farmers trying to fight against the rural traditions and modern bureaucracy of China that's deaf to even the basic values of humanity. Of course, they fail miserably - some end up hanging themselves, some get shot, some get run over, but some survive by drinking their own piss and giving up all the dignity.
Dec 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
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Which book of Mo Yan's would you recommend. 1 7 Oct 08, 2015 12:15PM  

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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 hi

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