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Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out
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Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out

4.3 10
by Mo Yan

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Today’s most revered, feared, and controversial Chinese novelist offers a tour de force in which the real, the absurd, the comical, and the tragic are blended into a fascinating read. The hero—or antihero—of Mo Yan’s new novel is Ximen Nao, a landowner known for his benevolence to his peasants. His story is a deliriously unique journey and


Today’s most revered, feared, and controversial Chinese novelist offers a tour de force in which the real, the absurd, the comical, and the tragic are blended into a fascinating read. The hero—or antihero—of Mo Yan’s new novel is Ximen Nao, a landowner known for his benevolence to his peasants. His story is a deliriously unique journey and absolutely riveting tale that reveals the author’s love of a homeland beset by ills inevitable, political, and traditional.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
““A wildly visceral and creative novel . . . A vast, cruel, and complex story.” ”
Jonathan Spence
…a wildly visionary and creative novel, constantly mocking and rearranging itself and jolting the reader with its own internal commentary. This is politics as pathology. From the start, the reader must be willing to share with Mo Yan the novel's central conceit: that the five main narrators are not humans but animals, albeit ones who speak with sharply modulated human voices…harsh and gritty, raunchy and funny. The revolutionaries' village politics are deadly; sex in the village (whether human or animal) is flamboyant and consuming. Death is unexpected and usually violent. Coincidences of plotting abound. The zaniest events are depicted with deadpan care, and their pathos is caught at countless moments by the fluent and elegant renderings of the veteran translator Howard Goldblatt. One might have thought it impossible, but each animal does comment with its own distinctive voice
—The New York Times
Library Journal

Mo Yan's (Big Breasts & Wide Hips) latest epic novel spans the years 1950-2000 and opens with landowner Ximen Nao, executed in Mao's Land Reform Movement of 1948, being fried to a crisp in hell. After negotiating with the king of the underworld, Nao returns to his village reincarnated in turn as a donkey, an ox, a pig, a dog, a monkey, and, finally, a big-headed boy. Though the concept is intriguing, the existence of multiple narrators often makes the story difficult to follow (the list of some dozen characters in the opening does, at least, help readers keep track of who's who). Also, the author liberally references a character sharing his own name who is very similar to himself throughout the story. These references seem unnecessary, narcissistic, and annoyingly disruptive to the narrative flow. Yan does manage to convey the difficulties of village life, complex character relationships, and occasional humor. But his work is not for the average reader and requires immense patience to follow through to the end. Academic and large public libraries with collections of translated works by Chinese authors will probably want to consider.
—Shirley N. Quan

Kirkus Reviews
Epic black comedy from the inventive Chinese author (Big Breasts and Wide Hips, 2004, etc.) frequently mentioned as a leading Nobel Prize contender. This novel is every bit as rambunctious and bizarre as the summary will suggest. The story begins in Hell, whose placid sadistic calm is disturbed by the bitter complaints of Ximen Nao, a prosperous landowner arrested and executed when Chairman Mao's policy of "land reform" required the seizure of Nao's property. Unable to extract the stubborn Nao's confession of wrongdoing, Lord Yama (aka Satan) agrees to "send him back" to earth. But Nao finds he isn't himself, as he lives through successive reincarnations as a donkey, ox, pig, dog and monkey during a half-century of the Cultural Revolution, up to the beginning of the new millennium. All these Naos relive the past as well as interact with his nearest and dearest (wife, concubines, children), his former handyman Lan Lian and such disturbing avatars of Mao's new society as militia commander and bean counter Huang Tong and Nao's upwardly mobile, amoral son Ximen Jinlong. This long story never slackens; the author deploys parallel and recollected narratives expertly, and makes broadly comic use of himself as a meddlesome, career-oriented hack whose versions of important events are, we are assured, not to be trusted. Mo Yan is a mordant Rabelaisian satirist, and there are echoes of Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy in this novel's rollicking plenitude (e.g., a typical chapter title announces "Wild Geese Fall, People Die, an Ox Goes Berserk/Ravings and Wild Talk Turn into an Essay"). The recent Nobel awarded to Gao Xingjian may have ousted Mo Yan from the top level of contenders. If so, theselection committee may have to be "re-educated." He's one hell of a writer. First printing of 12,500

Product Details

Arcade Publishing
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6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

Mo Yan, winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature, was born in 1955 in North Gaomi Township in Shandong Province, an impoverished rural area that is the setting for much of his fiction. Despite the audacity of his writing, he has won virtually every national literary prize, including China’s Annual Writer’s Prize, its most prestigious award. He is the author of The Garlic Ballads, The Republic of Wine; Shifu, You’ll Do Anything for a Laugh; Big Breasts and Wide Hips, and Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out, all published by Arcade, as well as Red Sorghum and Pow!. Mo Yan and his family live in Beijing.

Howard Goldblatt taught modern Chinese literature and culture for more than a quarter of a century. He is the foremost translator of modern and contemporary Chinese literature in the West and a former Guggenheim Fellow.

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Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
AlegriaJU More than 1 year ago
This is a very creative way to tell a fictional story based on real- life events in the 1950s-and-on era of Communist China. It takes place in a small farming community and shows how life can really change for the landlords and peasants. In order to keep the story going for decades the author employs reincarnation of animals who become the main characters for a time. Now you would think that an ox, a donkey, a pig, etc. would not have an interesting life. Well, think again as the author expresses the animals' and humans' feelings, surprise, horror, and elation of events that take place in their village. We also get a good look with details of what life must have been like for the people in that time and place. I found myself vowing to stop reading for the night, but many a time I kept going because I had to find out how an incident would end. It is a long read, 500 some pages, but worth it. I am getting history, intrigue, and personalities. At first I thought I could not relate to the animal characters especially, but they were once a human character so the feelings are still there. I am not done, but more than halfway through the novel. And I want to know the outcome at the end.
TeechTX More than 1 year ago
This is not an easy read, but it is a worthwhile one.  Mo draws on Chinese legends about reincarnation, without rooting them deeply in any religious conviction, to look at one man's afterlife through the perceptions of the various animals into which he is reincarnated.  This can make it tricky to keep track of the narrative voices in some places, but it is worth the effort.  We follow reincarnations from the protagonist's execution as a landowner at  the beginning of the revolution through the Cultural Revolution and the Gang of Four to the present.  As a result we get a view of 20th century Chinese culture as interpreted by controversial (in China) author, Mo Yan.    The Chinese are rightly quite proud of Mr. Mo's Nobel Prize in Literature, and his literary merit has been recognized in China for years even though his books are hardly politically correct.  A Nobel Peace Prize might have landed him in prison!  This book is long but very entertaining.  Apart from the difficult narrative structure, it readily commanded my attention, especially with its asides about Mo's other writings (he is a minor character in the novel).  Anyone who wishes to know more about contemporary Chinese life and thought at the level of ordinary people rather than academics must read this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A story that stays with you.  Unique, funny, sad, I just loved this book.  I wanted continue following the main character through even more lives.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
With the unfamiliar grammar use and structure, most readers will immediately realize the book was not originally written in English. Mix that effect in with ample amounts of humor, unique characters, and a moderately controversial political backdrop, and you have a read that's an enjoyable path outside of the rest of today's homogeneous English literature.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the great geniuses of modern literature...to be ranked with Saramago, Grass, and Garcia-Marquez.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A fantastic span across decades of Chinese history, from the point of view of several incarnations. Aside from atrocious copy mistakes riddled throughout my Nook version, and the confusion of keeping track of some of the secondary characters, the story themes stick with you. Tidily concluded.
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