I had quite high expectations going into reading Red Sorghum by Mo Yan. A large part of it had to with the fact that the book seemed to promise to shed some light on the Japanese occupation of Manchuria (China) in the early 1930s as well as the turbulent period in Chinese history in which different indigenous factions jostled for dominance during the protracted Chinese Civil War. My curiosity about Chinese history, therefore made me eager to read about the countless skirmishes and intense firefights between the Chinese partisans fighting each other as well as the Japanese and their puppet soldiers. With the lush red sorghum fields of rural Manchuria as a backdrop for the narrative, Yan weaves a series of colorful, at times emotionally charged anecdotal tales about the dramatic life and times of three generations of his family, from his great grandfather down to his parents. The prose is unflowery, yet elegantly poetic. The storyline is engrossing, yet convoluted, with many tangential threads and an overwhelming preponderance of characters. In the beginning I tried to keep up with the rapidly rotating cast of characters like Fang Six, Big Tooth Yu, Black Eye, grandpa and grandma, etc. However, after a hundred pages or so it was too much to bear. I wonder if perhaps this is partly attributable to the fact that I read an English translation of Red Sorghum. I suspect that in Mandarin (Chinese) there are distinct characters (or single words) for specific family relations, such as paternal grandmother and maternal grandmother, which might have made the thread of the story easier to follow. Another aspect of Red Sorghum that diminishes my enthusiasm for this book, is it’s depiction of rape on multiple occasions, including a very graphic description of gang rape by Japanese soldiers. Some of the rape scenes also seem to bizarrely imply that the rape victim derived enjoyment from said encounter. This is further compounded by the prodigious accounts of domestic abuse and gender based violence sprinkled throughout the narrative, which admittedly may be authentic to this period of Chinese history. In short, Red Sorghum, while an interesting read, may not be suited to everyone’s tastes. With that aside I would still recommend Red Sorghum to anyone who is open-minded and interested in expanding their literary horizons by exploring Chinese literature.
Have you read Red Sorghum? or any of Mo Yan’s other works? What are your thougts after reading it? What did you find most enjoyable about it? Thanks as always for stopping by! Please feel free to share your thoughts or reactions in a comment below. Also, if you would like to receive more updates about my writing please consider joining my newsletter mailing list by subscribing below.