Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Three of the best books on China

At the Guardian, Pushpinder Khaneka named three of the best books on China. One title on the list:
The Garlic Ballads by Mo Yan

Blood, sweat and tears – and the pungent smell of garlic – run through Mo's gritty tale of penury and powerlessness in rural China.

The story, set in the late-1980s, is inspired by a real incident. Poor farmers in the ironically named Paradise County are encouraged by officials to plant garlic. But when a glut ensues, the corrupt officials, who have lined their pockets, refuse to buy any more of the crop and it is left to rot in the fields.

Facing ruin, the enraged farmers riot and burn down the county offices. Official retribution is swift and savage. The "revolt" is crushed, and the alleged ringleaders beaten and jailed.

Among those held are villagers Gao Yang and Gao Ma – the latter involved in a passionate but doomed love affair – who tell their stories through flashbacks.

Mo vividly portrays the peasants' harsh existence and the greed that corrupts families and bureaucrats – and ruins lives. His powerful, lyrical prose and tempered rage make The Garlic Ballads a rattling good read.

Mo Yan, a pen name that means "don't speak", was a controversial winner of the 2012 Nobel prize. Critics said the former army officer was too close to the state. This novel, however, was banned for a time.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue