By Mo Yan and Howard Goldblatt
Arcade Publishing, $14.95, 290 pages
Last year’s Nobel Prize winner, Garlic Ballads, is a pulpy, devastating look at humanity – both what it means to be a thinking, feeling human being, as well as what can happen when one is stripped of that human-ness and forced to resort to the pure and simple primal instincts of survival. The story works backwards from arrests made after an attack on Communist headquarters in a very poor farming district where three families are barely scraping by and looks at their stories in great – sometimes nauseating – detail. In this brutal indictment against the ugly, dark side of human nature, Mo Yan rails against those who take advantage of their positions of power. Though corrupt government officials, tyrannical fathers, and selfish mothers are especially targeted, absolutely no one is spared the requirement of being stripped and turned inside-out: nothing is private, and nothing is sacred within the walls of this narrative. Discomfort is surely the underlying pulse of this novel, but there are moments of beauty and relief, and thoughtfulness and gratitude will surely be born through its reading.
Reviewed by Kaylan Isenberg