For Jintong, the bastard child of a Swedish pastor, the all-too-brief seductions of the maternal bosom are his mainstays in a tormented world. Mo Yan deftly interweaves the whimsical with the tragic. After a while, the mass violence takes on the aura of road kill, but Mo Yan keeps the reader riveted to the seat, and never fails to provide an anchor to the sights and smells of his native land. Allegorical tones reverberate throughout the novel, yet the narration seldom dwells on the actual political events that defined so much of China's life under Mao. Jintong, a failed male heir, must learn to survive in a reformed, yet ruthless China. Here Mo Yan draws on magical realism that harkens back to the epic tales of Marquez. The Shangguan family, whose matriarch bears eight girls and a boy by different fathers, live and die in a harsh landscape shaped by repeated political upheavals-the defeat of old dynasties and foreign invaders, and the persecutions under Mao's Communist regime. His problems could be blamed on character defects, or in grander terms, on the repercussions of war and patriarchy. Check out our February feature of folktales from the Qatari oral tradition.
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