Genre: Short Stories, Magical Realism/Surrealism, Chinese Literature
Format: Paperback (Softcover)
I got this book from the Book Outlet sale many months ago, along with Mo Yan’s Wine of the Republic. So lately I had gotten tired of reading big books, it became a chore to read anything longer than 200 pages, which is why you haven’t seen a review of Roberto Bolaño’s The Third Reich. So I decided to read a batch of short stories and some E-books, so there might be an Advanced Readers copy review and an review of an E-book containing short stories. So I will review each of the short stories, so this review will probably be pretty long.
Shifu, You’ll Do Anything For a Laugh: This is the first story of the book, it’s more of a novella or a novelette, since it’s 53 pages. Most of the short stories in this book include the theme of poverty in China. Shifu is an old factory worker who is laid off from his job, and he is unable to find a job due to his age and heath. Shifu is kind and hard-working and the last time he gets paid off is by getting fired. He is also childless and his wife depends on him to bring money home. He is also very clumsy, which complicates his situation further because he eventually couldn’t afford to pay for the medical bills. Eventually he ends up in a cemetery where a dilapidated bus is located. In that bus, a young couple makes love and gives Shifu the idea of making a ‘love hotel’ where young couples pay to spend some time together. So this business becomes successful and he gets really insecure, he thinks that he will get in trouble with the government for shady business. He sees a middle aged couple crawl into the bus after they pay and never come out. He later finds out that his worry was nothing. Shifu is pretty light hearted compared to the other stories, it’s has a bit of sarcastic humor and it’s a bit satirical. I actually found this story humorous. It’s one of those really weird stories that puts a smile on people’s face.
Man and Beast: The second story is pretty violent, a battle between a man and a fox who was forced to live in a cave out in the wild when the Japanese invaded China during World War II. After he wins the battle with the fox, he begins to venture out of the wild and comes upon a Japanese village, he attacks a Japanese woman, but when he regains his humanity, he lets her live. It’s a story of humanity and forgiveness during a time of bloodshed and war. The ending was very touching and probably one of my favorites in this book.
Soaring: This is one of the shortest, or felt like one of the shortest stories in this book. This is one of the more ‘magical’ like stories like Man and the Beast. This one is about a woman who refuses to follow old Chinese values, she regains the ability to fly away from her husband. Unfortunately, she ends up getting the village’s way the hard way. I’m not sure why, maybe I’m sick in the head, but I actually found this story amusing, I wish I can fly away from my problems with the flapping of my hands.
Iron Child: This is a modern fairy tale in my opinion, it’s about a starving child who meets an Iron Child, they both have the ability to eat iron. They run around the village and factories eating iron to sustain their never ending hunger. I actually really love this one more than Man and Beast because it was like a modern version of a fantasy tale that I read when I was younger.
The Cure: This is one of the more darker stories where public execution and the stealing of organs is involved. Three people are executed and a father and son extract a gall bladder to cure a grandmother’s sickness.
This is one of those stories where Mo Yan portrays corruption, desperation, and the deterioration of society.
Love Story: This story doesn’t really stand out. It’s a simple story about a boy falling in love with a girl who is a few years older than him. He feels like a mere child and she is a beautiful woman. He is in love with her maturity and feels that his love would never be requited because of the age gap. However, since it is a love story, of course this love is accomplished by the end of the story because she’s been ‘wanting it’ anyway. It’s also a sort of coming of age story since he was the only one that showed kindness towards her while everyone makes fun of him for it.
Shen Garden: So here is a story about two middle aged people who knew each other when they were younger, they were probably a couple. The woman is slightly ill and they both want to be around each other for the sake of memories and affection. The woman wants to go to Shen Garden, the man who liked her, didn’t know where the garden was. They go in a taxi and embark on the journey to this garden but end up going somewhere isn’t really the Shen garden but the woman probably didn’t really know or gave up trying to go. They try their best to make the best of the trip, they end falling in love with the nature and growing close together. It’s another sweet story.
Abandoned Child: This is the last story that left me with a sullen feeling, which makes it one of the best. It’s involves poverty, the One Child Policy, and the obsession with the preference for boys. The main character is a writer and his mindset is a lot more modern than the rest of the villagers. He hates humanity for it’s narrow mindness and lack of empathy. He rescues an abandoned baby girl and feels rather down when he encounters a bunch of misfortunes and the disapproval of his wife and family. He talks about how he hates humanity but finds peace in nature, specifically the sunflower gardens. He seems to find comfort alone in nature, loves the abandoned child, and he hates the corrupt people around him.
Mo Yan writes beautiful stories, the language is poetic and the descriptions are vivid. The stories are entertaining, but dark and cringe worthy. A lot of the stories were influenced by his childhood of poverty and the destruction of humane thinking after the Cultural Revolution. The stories are dark yet beautiful all at the same time, they feel like fairy tales created in a modern era. This book was a good read light read that I really needed.