Big Breasts & Wide Hips

Mo Yan, trans. from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt. Arcade, $27 (532p) ISBN 978-1-55970-672-8

Ripe with spectacular detail and unflinching in its portrayal of the Shangguan family, this latest saga by Mo Yan (Red Sorghum ) is a lavish feast for the senses sprawling across several decades and political regimes in 20th-century China's quasi-fictional North Gaomi region. Mo Yan's writing is bold and sometimes flinty as it draws humor from the direst of sources, and the story—the elaborate, fleet and episodic plot—is arresting and satisfying. The book opens as two creatures struggle to give birth: Shangguan Lu, the beleaguered mother of seven daughters, and the family donkey, who ends up getting the wealth of aid and sympathy from Lu's mother-in-law. It's a revealing scene that effectively lays out the themes of Mo Yan's brutal, inspired work and suggests the significance of its title: in a harsh environment like rural China where survival is not guaranteed but a privilege fought for every day, humans, and especially women, have only their bodies and their animal instincts to depend on, with fate often stepping in to play a cruel hand. However, this doesn't stop the daughters of grimly resolute Lu from developing into a clan of steely-eyed women who throughout the book make choices and meet destinies that are at turns heartening, vicious and breathtaking. Most of the book is narrated by Jintong, the weak and spoiled son who breast-feeds well into childhood, provoking derision and disgust from his sisters. His lack of stature makes him a compelling narrator, a frontline observer who is invested in the outcomes but always something of an outsider. The constant violence, rendered in Mo Yan's powerhouse prose, may make this too graphic a read for some, but those who are able to see the violence for what it is—an undeniable aspect of rural Chinese life—will find this a deeply rewarding book. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 11/22/2004
Release date: 11/01/2004
Genre: Fiction
Ebook - 384 pages - 978-1-62872-253-6
Paperback - 532 pages - 978-1-61145-343-0
Paperback - 576 pages - 978-1-61145-370-6
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