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Big Breasts and Wide Hips


3.75  ·  Rating details ·  2,184 ratings  ·  301 reviews
China's most important contemporary literary voice delivers a portrait of twentieth-century China full of historical sweep and earthy exuberance.In his latest novel, Mo Yan—arguably China’s most important contemporary literary voice—recreates the historical sweep and earthy exuberance of his much acclaimed novel Red Sorghum. In a country where patriarchal favoritism and th ...more
Hardcover, 552 pages
Published November 17th 2004 by Arcade Publishing (first published 1996)
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3.75  · 
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 ·  2,184 ratings  ·  301 reviews

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Mar 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: , yan

Is the uterus a prime property of the dowry that a bride brings into her marital life? Fertility being its most significant asset and a son the ultimate gift of that property.

“Without a son, you’ll be no better than a slave as long as you live, but with one you’ll be a mistress....”

The cry of a barren womb is more traumatizing than the agony of twisted bones that sacrifice their maturity for the birth of exquisite Lotus Feet. A society, where once, a woman without bound feet could not find a hu
Jeff Volkmann
Mar 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: asian-fiction
Over the summer I read Red Sorgum and was intrigued by Mo Yan’s rather unique style. When I began reading Big Breasts and Wide Hips I had extremely high expectations. When you read reviews like this is Mo Yan’s play at the Nobel Prize in Literature you expect a lot. After the first 50 pages I thought I was going to be let down. It seemed very similar to Red Sorgum. Mo Yan seems to have an ability to make me cringe when describing human suffering. He paints such a vivid picture of violence that i ...more
Stephen Durrant
Nov 07, 2012 rated it liked it
Immediately after finishing Mo Yan's "Big Breasts and Wide Hips," I began Haruki Murakami's "IQ84." I am far from finished with the latter--don't expect a review of that any time soon--but I already am far enough along to have rekindled some of my old consternation with the Nobel Prize for Literature. Yes, Mo Yan is a talented, bold writer, but I do not believe he comes close to Murakami's creative genius. He has won, as is so often the case with the Nobel Prize, more because of politics than li ...more
Dec 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
It is cold, it is raining, you've just been raped, hit by your mother in law and are eating regurgitated beans stolen from your work unit, and your forty year old son (you had 8 daughters first) still wants to drink from your breast. Big Breasts and Wide Hips is a very long (650 pages in the Dutch translation), very dreary telling of the Shangguan family’s misfortunes. Mo is a master in describing horrors, and his descriptions often trigger strong impressions of stench and filth. The cast of dee ...more
Jun 13, 2012 rated it did not like it
After 230-odd pages I've closed this book for good. Time to accept I will not ever have any sense of connection with any of these characters, no empathy, no compassion. Because not one of the characters in this book deserves it. Certainly not the narrator, who at 7 years old decides to commit suicide rather than be forceably weaned. Not one character demonstrates a shred of kindness, nobility, heroism, or other remarkable trait. And by "remarkable" I don't mean amazing, I mean worth remarking up ...more
I loved the homage to the female- mother, nurturer, life giver, sacrificial lamb. Yan is brilliant in his use of allegories in the tale of the Shangguan family (specifically Mother and Jintong) from a China (Motherland) violated by war, suffering famine, poverty and "imprisonment" behind the bamboo curtains of the Cultural Revolution, to her eventual Reform and Awakening.
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I was surprised when Mo Yan won the Nobel Prize for Literature, because I had never heard of him. I did a little research and discovered that he once said, "If you like, you can skip my other novels, but you must read Big Breasts and Wide Hips. In it I wrote about history, war, politics, hunger, religion, love, and sex." (Li-Chun Lin, "My Three American Books.") The name was intriguing too, so I tracked down a copy.

I haven't read Steinbeck for years (I'll be getting back to him next year when I
Mar 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Sinophiles, readers of magical realism
There is something about Mo Yan's writing that makes you wide-eyed and then throws some grit into your open eyes. He takes Chinese history in the 20th century and weaves it into a tapestry of events in the life of its protagonist who unlike many protagonists is, by no means, a hero. He is a man crippled by his obsession with breasts. Mo Yan's book presents the reality created by the Chinese state in the 20th century in the starkest symbolic terms that make it seem so hollow and nonsensical.

Chris Chester
Oct 11, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: prose
Let me first start by saying that anybody who writes off this book because "the names are confusing" is an idiot. Chinese surnames come first, get over it.

Moving on... It's rare that I find myself feeling so conflicted about a book.

First of all: Big Breasts and Wide Hips is spectacular in a number of ways.

As an account of China's Great Leap Forward, it's instructive and insightful. When studying the great events of history, your notion of the way things happened often conforms to the structure
Oct 14, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition

If I was rating this book in a professional capacity I would probably give it 3 or 4 stars. Well-written and important themes and allegories parallel to the history of China (most of which I'm sure went over my head).

Since this is goodreads and goodreads is for me, I rate this book 2 stars. I really don't like books that function purely to list the epic and horrible events in the characters lives, no matter how well-written it is. Just one bad thing after another, brought about by both circum
Apr 13, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: did-not-finish
I have read 35% of the book, and am debating whether to continue. I don't know if it because I am a Chinese American, but I guess I don't like reading about female Chinese characters, like the protagonist's "Grandmother", who are verbally/physically abusive to other women family members. It was hard for me to stomach the cruelty. I thought I would be interested in reading what it was like for another Chinese female, but it just wore on my nerves and brought up old hurts. (In many Chinese familie ...more
Mary Gras vance
Nov 27, 2012 rated it it was ok
I am putting this book down for now. It is well written, ambitious & covers a period I would like to know more about-- But not enough to trudge through any more accounts of rape, starvation, suicide, and an obsession with breasts all narrated by an increasingly annoying spoiled boy.
I would apparently benefit from more familiarity with Chinese names---(constant "wait..who is who again?"). And, the strength of the mother is a draw. And, the writing is deeply funny. AND, Nobel prize! But, hour
Stephen Douglas Rowland
Mar 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I knew he had it in him. By now, I've read nearly everything by Mo Yan that has been translated into English, and have grown quite enthusiastic about the writer. Yet despite enjoying (most of) his novels immensely, I had not come across anything that I would call a "masterpiece." Four stars (out of five) was the highest rating I'd given anything by him... UNTIL NOW. Now, I'm sure you all are just dying to know the reasons I find this novel to be Mo Yan's masterpiece, but I'm not going to give th ...more
Greg Fanoe
Mar 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
The main character was pretty unlikeable (I assume intentionally so) but this was a nicely done generational family story. The touches of Chinese history were nice. Overall similar to but not quite as polished as "Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out".
Nov 11, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: china
Mo Yan once said about this book: "If you like, you can skip my other novels, but you must read Big Breasts & Wide Hips. In it I wrote about history, war, politics, hunger, religion, love, and sex." And I guaranty that you will find all these ingredients in it.

Big Breasts & Wide Hips is an epic saga covering all of XXth century China through the story of the Shangguan family, and more specifically that of Jintong, the hero, or rather anti-hero of this novel. Anti-hero because Jintong, am
Dec 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Considering the incommensurability of literary traditions in different languages, I was going to write this review in my rusty Chinese - but having read some English reviews of the book I feel inclined to making my review more accessible. In this case valuing conversation over precision (though I'm not sure how many people will even read this).

There are already some good reviews out there (this one I find particularly comprehensive:, so there's little n

Chinese author Mo Yan awarded Nobel lit prize: Published: 11 Oct 12 13:03 CET

ordered this because every time I pushed the yes button on a Red Sorghum onepennywonder request, the 'this offer is unavailable' box interrupted.

Folks out there were a split second ahead of me on each occasion.
was fun trying though, and this one does look good in a Wild Swans way.

Translated by Howard Goldblatt: one of the world's leading translators of Chinese Literature. He teac
অপরিচিত আবির
The emotions I felt when I finished the last sentence of this book was the same as I felt when I read the last few lines of One Hundred Years of Solitude, a feeling of emptiness - like when you get into a fight with a close friend, or lose a favorite item. It took a long time to finish reading the book, not because it was long, because it was grueling and filled with despair. Reading it was similar to binging 7-8 seasons of Black Mirror at once or rewatching Grave of the Fireflies. It was Magic ...more
Prof. Aloke Kumar
Oct 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
BIG BREASTS and WIDE HIPS : A novel by 莫言 Mo Yan

Chinese author Mo Yan, not Mao Yan, won the Nobel Literature Prize for his writing that mixes folk tales, history and the contemporary.

Big Breasts and Wide Hips published at the end of 200
9 , is set in a world seemingly remote to the 350 million or so Chinese born after 1980 and the start of Deng Xiaoping's reformist policies. They also happen to be China's most voracious readers, judging by the way in which books targeting this youthful demographi
Sep 27, 2017 added it
Big Breasts and Wide Hips is one of the most poignant stories of contemporary China. Some say it's an auto biography of the author Mo Yan. The book narrates the story of a poor couple from Inner China. It is across almost a century that Mo Yan goes through the story of this family, from the last imperial dynasty until the period post Cultural Revolution.

It is a must for whoever has interest in social and economic aspects of this country, but also relationships in general. It is extremely well w
Alvaro Silva
Feb 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 02, 2013 rated it it was ok
I have never read Mo Yan before and perhaps it was just too different for my personal tastes for me to enjoy it. The story essentially is told by the son of a strong mother who has given birth to nine children only one of whom is a boy - Jintong. Her life is simply awful, dreadful husband and in-laws, rape, violence, starvation, crippling poverty, death and constantly having grandchildren dumped on her due to the terrible choices made by her daughters. Her son is obsessed with breasts and to beg ...more
Beth (bibliobeth)
May 04, 2013 rated it liked it
This book can be described as a quick history of China’s more violent and turbulent years during one generation which is seen through the eyes of one boy, brought up as the only male amongst eight sisters, and he is completely obsessed with breasts. But not in the usual manner – he constantly craves his mothers milk after attempts to wean him off fails dismally. And there are a lot of breast references, almost every page has something about them or the nipple area in general! This induced much s ...more
Elena Johansen
I didn’t hate the writing style, or the characters. I didn’t hate the premise. So why did I DNF this just past 150 pages?

Because I literally cannot count the number of times a single female character (Shangguan Lu, or “Mother”) was raped in those 150 pages. Incidents occurred on three separate occasions, the first by a lone man (who fathered one of her many children on her), but the later two were both gang rapes, one by four men and the other by…who knows? It’s not said.

The blurb led me to beli
May 26, 2014 rated it did not like it
Saluting the female gender, Mo Yan focuses his novel on strong women, particularly Mother, the main character who births nine children in all, of which only one is a boy. In Chinese culture, boys reign supreme and Mother is disdained and castigated every time she produces a girl. The novel is a heft, spanning the end of the Qing dynasty to the fall of Mao and provides a disturbing, and probably representative historical account of what it was like in China during those years. The writing didn’t ...more
Nitya Sivasubramanian
Aug 10, 2007 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 1star
And I thought we Indians have difficult names to keep track of!

Perhaps this book would have been a better read if I had any empathy for the narrator. Unfortunately though, he strikes me as such a whiny unbearably spoilt little boy that I spent more time trying to repress unhappy memories of growing up in a son-obesessed culture than I could afford to waste on this book.

I did enjoy some of the female characters though. A powerful matriarch who dares soldiers to strike her as she protects her bro
Zöe Yu
Jun 09, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: china
In five hundred pages, it is hard to portray the epic-ysque life during the time. Very interesting perspective, from a breast-addicted guy's point of view, life is just composed of breasts and hips. Why not. When Mo Yan said he wants to create a similar village like other Magical realistic gurus, I wasn't sure. He did it. Should it be considered as a copy of motif? But anyhow, it works. At least, he is familiar with the village, Gaomi Dongbei Xiang.

Really like the ending... After being with thi
Eva Kumar
Jan 02, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am fascinated by the details put in by Mo Yan in this tale who has sewn lives of the entire Shangguan family with perfection. Each and every family member has a story of his/her own and bringing them collectively as one big novel is a work of art itself. I developed sympathy with many of the characters, be it Shangguan Lu (the main character) or her 7 daughters and the son (Jintong) in many parts of the story, and Mo was able to wonderfully keep a high level of curiosity about the destiny of a ...more
Heather Macadam
Nov 12, 2012 rated it liked it
I am struggling with this one. I started it before I went to China and read it while I was traveling. I am a VERY fast reader and am only half way through the book. I am bored by the narrative voice and I think I am simply too much of a feminist to enjoy the "boy" worship that is China. I will finish the book because i make it a point of reading Noble Prize writers, but I wish I had read Red Sorghum instead (and will). I must add that I read IQ84 in 3 days, so that this is taking so long is real ...more
Nancy Lin
Jan 05, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: done-with
I've read about a quarter of the book and I'm done with it. The writing is beautiful and if you're into paragraph after paragraph of beautiful imagery of waving sorghum then this book is for you.

Geez, a story written from the perspective of a self-absorbed, cherished Chinese boy about how mommy is just for him? Blah, I'm done...
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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
“Where there's life, death is inevitable. Dying's easy; it's living that's hard. The harder it gets, the stronger the will to live. And the greater the fear of death, the greater the struggle to keep on living.” 52 likes
“Are women really wonderful things? Maybe they are. Yes, women are wonderful things, but when all is said and done, they aren't really “things” 12 likes
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