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Red Sorghum

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  6,064 ratings  ·  745 reviews
Spanning three generations, this novel of family and myth is told through a series of flashbacks that depict events of staggering horror set against a landscape of gemlike beauty, as the Chinese battle both Japanese invaders and each other in the turbulent 1930s. A legend in China, where it won major literary awards and inspired an Oscar-nominated film, Red Sorghum is a bo ...more
Paperback, 359 pages
Published April 1st 1994 by Penguin Books (first published May 1987)
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Steve Watching the movie is not a substitute for reading it at all. As Mary C noted, few movies can substitute for a good book, and this happens to be a gre…moreWatching the movie is not a substitute for reading it at all. As Mary C noted, few movies can substitute for a good book, and this happens to be a great one. In the case of this one, the first two chapters are represented in the movie fairly well. Not to disparage the movie at all, as it's very good in its own right. But, as Giona noted, if you like the movie, you'll like the book. (less)

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Average rating 3.77  · 
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 ·  6,064 ratings  ·  745 reviews

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Oct 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Those with strong hearts and strong stomachs
Recommended to Mosca by: Nobel Committee

For about eight years (1937~1945), northeastern China was occupied by Japan. This brutal invasion occurred coincidentally within the 23 years of the Chinese Civil War (1927~1950). For someone who might not be at least superficially familiar with the appalling conditions of these two wars of attrition fought upon a countryside already devastated by poverty and organized crime, it might appear that this book contains far too much gratuitous horror.

But for som
Apr 22, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: yan,
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
You can say I've developed a pretty healthy obsession with Mo Yan's writing. So healthy that I read his Nobel Prize acceptance speech (which was beautifully crafted - and long), I watched interviews of him with subtitles, I'm going to get the movie "Red Sorghum" and watch it, just because it's after this book right here, not because I particulary enjoy Chinese movies, I've started taking more interest in China's development (the whole of it, not just the last 150 years) because their ancestry fa ...more
Oct 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017, china
Part of my Fall 2017 Best Of Chinese Literature project; more here, and a cool list of books here.

Here's the greatest novel ever written about sexy hot grandmas. This lady's - well, it's his mom really. The book is narrated by the grandson, but his dad is the protagonist,'s complicated. I read this because it's about "three generations" of Chinese people, so I thought it might give me like a panoramic view of 20th century China, right? But it's really mostly entirely about 1939, the gran
John Hatley
Nov 03, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a family history, skillfully interlaced with beautiful descriptions of nature set against the horribly disturbing and shockingly realistic background of the atrocities committed by both sides during the war and occupation of China by the Japanese. An astonishing book.
Mar 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
I found Red Sorghum to be a scathing critique of the way the Chinese behaved during the Japanese occupation. It was particularly interesting reading this and contrasting its depiction of the Chinese peasant rebels with Xiao Hong’s in 生死场 (The Field of Life and Death). Xiao Hong shows the peasant rebels as glorious, patriotic fighters. This aspect of their character is not absent from Mo Yan’s depictions, but he also goes further to show that not all of the rebels were acting out of patriotism. S ...more
Jan 20, 2013 rated it it was ok
I'm aware that I ought to have liked this. Nobel prize winner, world literature, etc. But the more I read it (and I read to the very end, albeit in fits and starts for the last 50 or so pages) the less I appreciated its faux-mythologising stance, its glorification of violence, its utter lack of psychological - I won't say depth, because myth doesn't have depth, it just provides us with a terminology for depth - let's say, credibility. Oh yes, repeating words (sorghum an embarrassingly high numbe ...more
Apr 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This novel removes any doubt as to whether Mo Yan deserved the Nobel Prize for Literature. It is complex, bawdy, earthy, poetic, wallows in dirt and blood, and soars to magnificent poetic heights. Besides language so rich you can chew on it, and the deeply imagined characters, the greatest appeal of the novel, to me, were the many daring risks the author takes with form and structure.

If you've seen the movie, you've seen only the thin crust of the first two sections of the novel, cut apart and r
Dec 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
so much to say about it... It was one of the best reading in 2014.Mo Yan is very good story teller and the story was very blue. I am also glad that he won the nobel as it is caused his two books translated in Turkish with delay almost 30 years.
Tanuj Solanki
Oct 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
1. History obstructs the normally amoral play of human desire.

2. The magico-historico-real formula will ALWAYS work in the hands of a good writer. Red Sorghum can stand beside Tin Drum and Midnight's Children without feeling inferior.

2.5. Or maybe it is a little inferior. For there are some loose ends and some unworthy digressions here. Some side-stories that are forgotten. But the element that leads to these flaws is also the one that germinates the big pay-offs: namely the un-novel like feel o
Leo Ovidiu
The book has a few elements that distinguishes it from just any other book. One of this is the chromatic theme. The Red Sorghum is a very bright and colorful book. It’s filled with blood-red, loathsome-green and night-black images. On every page – i think – there is a sunset or a sunrise that bleeds the redest light ever depicted, a wound that leeks black blood and a river or a lake where the water is grotesquely green and it necessarily stinks. Throughout the entire book, red is the color that ...more
Sep 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
I liked this book which takes place mostly in the 1930's and revolves around a family of people who depend on sorghum for most of their livelihood. A huge supporting cast made up of Chinese nationalists, communists, warlords and Japanese invaders makes for a lot of spilled blood which, like the sorghum, is red; lots of red. Still, as in life, there is humor, love/lust, tragedy and plain hard work, (but mostly tragedy). I was glad to finish the book but also to have read it. Believable historical ...more
Lyn Elliott
Apr 14, 2015 rated it liked it
Mo Yan's Wikipedia entry reports: ‘In 2012, Mo was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his work as a writer "who with hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history and the contemporary".’

Mo Yan, the pen name of Guan Moye, means 'don't speak'. But Mo speaks the unspeakable in 'Red Sorghum', forcing his readers to imagine the unimaginable, sparing no detail as he relates the cruelties meted out by almost everybody to almost everybody else in rural China before, during and after the Japane
Ali Nazifpour
Red Sorghum read to me like a Chinese version of Marquez. By Chinese I mean like those second rate Chinese knock-offs. And I am not a fan of Marquez, I find him overrated. However, if you're one of the people who has a spontaneous orgasm when they hear the word "Marquez", you might like this book too. I didn't.

It's not like it has no merits at all. The prose reads very beautifully in English, so I guess it must have been even better in Chinese. The imagery and descriptions are very moving. When
Mar 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The only thing more ubiquitous in Mo Yan's prose than the shimmering image of a red field of fluttering sorghum stalks is the repeatedly abrupt appearance of a festering corpse or a newly opened, vigorously gushing flesh wound. Red Sorghum masterfully balances evocative colorful landscapes and morbidly cruel human violence. The contrast is harsh and beautiful and painful.

If you want to understand why Mo Yan was awarded the Nobel a few years ago, read this novel. In my mind, it alone justifies th
Dorothee Lang
Oct 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
"Red Sorghum" is one of the books I once started, but didn't finish, a book with multiple timelines that reach back to the time when Japan invaded China. The red in the title refers both to the Communist party, and to all the blood that was shed. I was at the Book Fair in Frankfurt when the Nobel Prize for Literature 2012 was announced: Mo Yan.

Reading into it again now, i remembered what i wrote about reading a previous Nobel Winner, Herta Müller: "war, and the hardship it brings on so many lev

Where's the anger? This felt a little flat; needed more of a bite to it. The narrator seems to be suffering under an over-developed coping mechanism, passing off truly horrible shit with nice metaphors. Sometimes it felt a bit too cutesy-poo and a bit too conservative, "Those good old days of forced marriage and casual domestic brutality." Forced marriage is just wrong, Mo. It's not only a problem when she's beautiful and he has leprosy.

"others got up to piss in a tin pail, raising a noisy liqui
Kyaw  Zayar Lwin
Apr 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
“Come home! You’re lost if you don’t. I know you don’t want to, I know you’re scared of all the flies, of the clouds of mosquitoes, of snakes slithering across the damp sorghum soil. You revere heroes and loathe bastards, but who among us is not the “most heroic and most bastardly”?”
Hoda Marmar
This is the most heartbreaking book. It made me cringe all throughout. I will write a proper review later; for the moment, I am overwhelmed.
Dec 11, 2012 added it
Red Sorghum (Penguin Books, 1994) by Mo Yan is a historical novel that takes place in 1923-24 and the late thirties, during the war against Japan. Made into a very successful film by Jiang Yimou, Red Sorghum is packed with action, killings, guns, policemen, backstabbing, survival after near-death experiences, deeds of heroism and betrayal, and images of "lush" landscapes (the kind of landscapes that big Hollywood producers like). The novel is set in the village where Mo Yan grew up and which, af ...more
Jan 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Oh my hell, this book is so good! I'm on a roll lately! It's hard to he does in half of Republic of Wine, he uses a narrator far removed from actual events to tell the story, in this case the grandchild of one of the novel's protagonists. The story is ostensibly about all the things that went into making the narrator's father who he is, but it's pretty moving. A lot of the reality's of mid-20th century china blend in with fantastic story-telling, action, and extremely vivid imagery. ...more
Jun 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mo Yan has an amazing way with words and description, this book is so dense with imagery that each page requires careful reading as you struggle to adequately create pictures in your mind from the language. It soon becomes clear why the book is called 'Red Sorghum' with reference to it in every chapter and the dark rich soil in which it grows, there is also a consistency in the imagery of the colours red and green tying together the sometimes confusing array of fights and battles that take place ...more
Stephen Durrant
Jan 05, 2013 rated it liked it
Mo Yan's novels are often praised because they depict the history of China's last six or so decades from the ground up. That is, they are usually set in the countryside, specifically his native Gaomi Township in Shandong, and concern precisely that class of people the Revolution was supposed to liberate. In the case of Red Sorghum, a 1987-novel that Zhang Yimou famously turned into a film, the historical background is the resistance against Japanese occupiers. Mo Yan's ground-up depiction of thi ...more
Gisela Hafezparast
I cannot believe I have let this book sit on my bookshelves unread for the past 3 years or so. The reason of course is that from the first few pages it feels very much like a war book, which it is, but it is so much more. It is an epic tale about the Chinese civil war and the Japanese invasion of China and the heroic resistance of the Chinese. I have rarely read a tale so beautiful and sympathetically told which in the main is mostly about murder, slaughter of the innocent and those not so innoc ...more
Jun 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book tells a tale spanning three generations in Northeast Gaomi township in Shandong province China. There is a marked contrast between the beauty of the land and the sorghum fields and the depravity and darkness in the actual events which transpire. The narrative is bewildering in that it jumps around in time almost paragraph to paragraph and it makes for having to reread earlier sections to reconnect the storyline. No character is completely one way or another. Like the contrasts set out ...more
Biagio Pipitone
Actual rating 3,85
Alice Turner
Jan 15, 2021 rated it really liked it
This book is beautiful and awful at the same time. It took me most of 2020 to read as I kept abandoning it because of the extreme violence. Every possible horror that could be acted on man, woman, child or beast occurs in this novel. It is not for the faint-hearted. Saying that, it is beautifully written and there was never any question of abandoning it completely. It depicts the visceral, bloody, violent cycle of life in a small area of China during war times, set amongst the red sorghum planta ...more
Hock Tjoa
Dec 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is a bold, brash, bawdy and brilliant work. Purporting to be a family chronicle that the narrator obtains from a 92 year old woman from his family village, it tells of his brave, lusty and larger than life grandparents and their turbulent existence carving out a life in the midst of a northern Chinese region infested with bandits, opium smokers and gamblers, and invaded by the Japanese. There are horrific scenes of brutality: second grandma (thereon hangs another tale) and young auntie were ...more
Miriam Cihodariu
Oct 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: china
This is the second book written by Mo Yan that I've read, and my favorite so far. I think it's been rightly called a masterpiece (and earned him the Nobel). It also enticed me to see the movie made for it (still working on that).

Though very beautiful, it's not an easy thing to read - the horrors of war are pictured in full light; no stylistically convenient cushions will be there to soften any blows.

On the other hand, it's not a cold, brutal light-of-day style of writing either. The mythologica
Apr 05, 2018 rated it liked it
As someone who's typically interested in war-related books, this didn't live up to my expectations. It is a fictional history/war book, but still seemed to portray the typical themes of war rather strongly and vividly. I was expecting a more fast-paced read, but this book didn't follow that style. A lot of the book is related to symbolism. The narrator helps portray the realistic brutalities of war, which seems to be one of the primary themes of the book. The part the plant plays on the novel se ...more
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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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