Review: Red Sorghum

Red Sorghum
Red Sorghum by Mo Yan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What an impressive and engaging read! It was pretty hard putting the book down although I really had to, to take a break from the brutality. It was a bit much for my sheltered & innocent upbringing.

The narrator was not quite in the story. He is telling the stories of his grandparents, mostly from his father’s perspective, and how the past affects him in the present time. It feels like he was retelling stories he heard from his father. His father grew up during the Japanese invasion and like any other villagers, had more than his share of fights & suffering. The story began with how the narrator’s grandparents met and the father was conceived. Most of the story revolves around the father’s teen years (during the Japanese invasion).

I was most impressed with…

…just how lyrical the language was (as I read the translated work, kudos to the translator, but I can just imagine how much richer it probably is in its original work);
”In the cruel fourth lunar month, frogs lay their transparent eggs in the Black Water River under radiant starlight. Then, in the sweltering heat of the sun, swarms of inky-black, squirming tadpoles emerge into the warmth of water that looks like freshly extracted bean oil to form inky-black schools that swim with the slowly flowing river. Dog-turd reeds grow in profusion on the banks; wild mustard flowers so red they seem purple bloom furiously amid the water grasses.”

…how confronting the brutality was; it was openly & frankly presented (this is why I need breaks from the book!);
”He warded off one with his knife, then neatly separated the soldier from his helmeted head, which sailed through the air, trailing a long howl before landing heavily on the ground, the thud driving the remnants of the scream out of its mouth… The cheeks were still quivering, the nostrils still twitching, as though it were about to sneeze.” (note: this is not the worst of it)

…the passion;
”Two blue flames danced in the golden glow in the room. The golden flames singed his body, the blue flames singed his heart.”

…and the Love;
The first ingredient of love – fanaticism – is composed of heart-piercing suffering: the blood flows through the intestines and bowels, and out of the body as faeces the consistency of pitch. The second ingredient – cruelty – is composed of merciless criticism: each partner in the love affair wants to skin the other alive, physically and psychologically. The both want to rip out each other’s blood vessels, muscles, and every writhing internal organ, including the heart. The third ingredient – frigidity – is composed of a protracted heavy silence. Icy emotions frost the faces of people in love. Their teeth chatter so violently they can’t talk, no matter how badly they want to.”

Everything was so physical – Be prepared! This book is also practically drenched with Chinese superstitions and proverbs. Oh, and of course, of sorghum wine.

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2 thoughts on “Review: Red Sorghum

    1. Tien Post author

      It’s funny but I wouldn’t actually used ‘gripping’ as a description of the book. ‘Engaging’ is the most I would go for. This, I think, is probably due to the way the stories are structured. There are nearly always flashbacks at most ‘gripping’ times that it kinda reduces the ‘grippiness’. I do hope you read the book one day.


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