- By Isaac Stone FishIsaac Stone Fish is FP's Asia editor. A Mandarin speaker, he lived in China for seven years before moving to Washington, D.C. His articles have also appeared in the New York Times, the Economist, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, and he has appeared as a commentator on MSNBC, the BBC, NPR, Al Jazeera, and PRI, among others.
Mo Yan, the Chinese writer whose novels burst with burlesque renderings of alcohol, sex, and violence, won the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature Thursday for his "hallucinatory realism," blending aspects of "folk tales, history and the contemporary," according to the award committee.
Here are four not-entirely-safe-for-work representative passages from Mo’s novels.
In which a protagonist from his 1992 novel The Republic of Wine falls in love with his mother-in-law:
As a son-in-law, maybe I’m out of line, but as a dyed-in-the wool materialist, I say what needs to be said. And what needs to be said here is, although my mother-in-law is in her sixties, she could produce a dozen little brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law for me if the law permitted and she was willing. Why does she seldom fart, and on those rare occasions when she does, why, instead of smelling bad, do her farts actually smell like sugar-fried chestnuts? Generally speaking, a beautiful woman’s belly is filled with bad odors; in other words, beauty is only skin deep. How, then, can my mother-in-law be not only pretty on the outside but fragrant and appetizing inside as well? All these question marks have snared me like fish hooks, turning me into a balloon fish that has blundered into choice fishing waters. They torment me as much as they probably bore you, dear readers."
During the Sino-Japanese War, from his 1987 novel Red Sorghum, which shot him to fame:
Among the chiseled flecks of moonlight Father caught a whiff of the same sickly odor, far stronger than anything you might smell today. Comrade Yu was leading him by the hand through the sorghum, where three hundred fellow villagers, heads pillowed on their arms, were strewn across the ground, their fresh blood turning the black earth into a sticky muck that made walking slow and difficult. The smell took their breath away. A pack of corpse-eating dogs sat in the field staring at Father and Commander Yu with glinting eyes. Commander Yu drew his pistol and fired-a pair of eyes was extinguished. Another shot, another pair of eyes gone. The howling dogs scattered, then sat on their haunches on they were out of range, setting up a deafening chorus of angry barks as they gazed greedily, longingly at the corpses. The odor grew stronger.
"Jap dogs!" Commander Yu screamed. "Jap sons of bitches!" He emptied his pistol, scattering the dogs without a trace. "Let’s go son," he said. The two of them, one old and one young, threaded their way through the sorghum field, guided by the moon’s rays. The odor saturating the field drenched Father’s soul and would be his constant companion during the cruel months and years ahead.
The opening scene in his 1996 novel Big Breasts and Wide Hips, a decades-long saga of a Chinese village:
From where he lay quietly on the brick-and-tampered-earth sleeping platform, his kang, Pastor Malory saw a bright red beam of light shining down on the Virgin Mary’s pink breast and on the pudgy face of the bare-bottomed Blessed Infant in her arms. Water from last summer’s rains had left yellow stains on the oil tableau, investing the Virgin Mary and Blessed Infant with a vacant look. A long-legged spider hung from a silvery thread in the bright window, swaying in a light breeze. "Morning spiders bring happiness, evening spiders promise wealth." That’s what the pale yet beautiful woman had said one day when she saw one of the eight-legged creatures. But what happiness am I entitled to? All those heavenly breasts and buttocks in his dream flashed through his head.
Also from The Republic of Wine — attending a class on how to cook a human boy:
They came over to help lit up the meat boy and place him in a specially designed rack shaped like a birdcage, on top of which was a hook connected to a suspended ring. With the help of the two women in white, the cage-like rack was hoisted into the air. The meat boy lay in his caged prison, one white, pudgy little foot sticking out from under the rack; it was a lovely sight. My mother-in-law explained, The first step is to drain the blood. But I must tell you that, for a while, some comrades believed that keeping the blood made the meat boy taste better and raised his nutritional value. Their theory was based upon the Korean practice of never making a cut to drain the blood when they cook dog meat. But after repeated tests and comparisons, we have concluded that a meat boy tastes much better and is tenderer when his blood is drained. It is a simple procedure: the more blood you drain for a meat boy, the better his color will be…Nervously closing my eyes, I thought I heard the little guy cry out loud on the rack as desks and chairs in the hall began to bang against each other. With a mighty howl, the students stormed out of the hall. But when I opened my eyes, I realized it was all in my head. The meat boy didn’t cry, didn’t scream, and there was already an opening on his foot. In a strangely beautiful manner, a string of bright red drops of blood like gemstones hung down to merge with a glass jar under his foot.