Written by China’s only Nobel winner, 莫言 (mò yán), this graphic telling of a sorghum wine making village during the Japanese Occupation/Resistance is a must-read for those interested in Chinese history and literature. While the novel attempts to provide the reader with a clear depiction of China’s Japanese Resistance Movement, the piece also showcases Chinese storytelling at its finest. The story is gruesome, humorous, entertaining, and horrifying.
《红高粱家族》 (hóng gāo liáng jiā zú) was intended to give such intense imagery that the reader would feel the struggle of the Chinese as they used anything they could find to fight the armored cars and machine guns of the the Japanese occupation forces. At the same time, the novel explores a traditional part of China, the making of red sorghum wine, one that originated in the northern central part of the country. Saturated with symbolism and metaphors, the audience is unlikely to experience dullness as they read from one vivid scene to the next.
莫言 is the only Chinese to ever receive a Nobel Prize. He received the award in 2012 for his ability to merge history, folk tales, and the contemporary with “hallucinatory realism.” Out of admiration, his style is the most imitated in China and is among the most representative of true Chinese folk tale storytelling. His pen name means “don’t speak” which is what his parents frequently told him when he was a child in the 1950s. His parents said that if he spoke too much outside, he would be in trouble due to the political atmosphere of the time.
The symbolism of the large red sorghum fields, the bloody aftermath of a battle, the nightmarish atmosphere of the bottom of a well, and an army of dogs feasting on rotting corpses are all what make this story a true classic of Chinese literature and one deserving a place on all of our bookshelves. The book has also been adapted into a film on the same name, directed by 张艺谋 (zhāng yì móu) and staring 姜文 (jiāng wén).