Tuesday, October 16, 2012

And the prize goes to...

Now tell me honestly, did you know the name Mo Yan before it was announced last week that he had won the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature? I freely admit that I did not know of this, apparently quite famous, Chinese author. Perhaps that is really not so surprising since there are evidently wonderful writers from the North American continent whose acquaintance I have not yet made. In fact, I'm meeting new ones all the time. It's an exciting experience for this constant reader.

I was interested to read about Mr. Mo and also about China's reaction to his selection. It seems that he is quite a popular literary light in his own country, in spite of the fact that much of his writing encompasses criticism of Chinese history and of contemporary Chinese culture. He is embraced by the Chinese Communist government and his winning of the Nobel Prize set off a national celebration. It was considered a major cultural accomplishment and affirmation and it was a boost to the national psyche.

Based on what I've read of him, it seems that although social criticism is a big part of his art, he is not a political dissident and, indeed, does not consider himself political. In that regard, I thought this quote from him that was included in The New York Times story about him was quite revealing:
A writer should express criticism and indignation at the dark side of society and the ugliness of human nature, but we should not use one uniform expression. Some may want to shout on the street, but we should tolerate those who hide in their rooms and use literature to voice their opinions.
I think that he sees himself not as one who shouts in the streets but who uses literature as a means of expressing opinions. I can relate to that. But not all Chinese dissident writers are big fans of his and some criticize his approach. They see him as part of a corrupt and oppressive establishment since he serves as vice-chairman in the state-sanctioned Chinese Writers Association.

At 57, Mr. Mo seems relatively young to be a Nobel winner, but he has had a very prolific writing career, stretching back to the 1980s.  Again, just based on the articles I've read since he won, it appears that his masterwork (at least so far) is Red Sorghum, an epic tale that covers the time of the Japanese occupation of the country and which came out in 1993. Another very highly praised book of his was The Garlic Ballads, published in 1995. His books are primarily about rural Chinese society and he employs a style of writing that is close to the magical realism of many South American writers. The western writers that he is often compared to are William Faulkner and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Not bad company.

Unfortunately, I don't read Chinese, but I understand that his works, especially the most popular and praised ones, have been translated into English and are widely available. So, no excuses! Here's one more name to add to my very, very long "to be read" list.


 

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