Mo Yan on Dragons, Storms and Book Reviews

New Jersey shore Roller Coaster in aftermath
of Hurricane Sandy that struck in late October – Reuters image

This year’s Nobel Prize in literature winner, Mo Yan, delivered his Nobel Lecture Dec. 7 at the Swedish Academy. The full text of the lecture is available online at the Nobel Foundation’s Web site.

In part, Yan told the Academy: “My greatest challenges come with writing novels that deal with social realities, such as The Garlic Ballads, not because I’m afraid of being openly critical of the darker aspects of society, but because heated emotions and anger allow politics to suppress literature and transform a novel into reportage of a social event. As a member of society, a novelist is entitled to his own stance and viewpoint; but when he is writing he must take a humanistic stance, and write accordingly. Only then can literature not just originate in events, but transcend them, not just show concern for politics but be greater than politics.”

Yan’s concern with writing novels that deal with social/political realities, rendering story within the context of the time in which the tale is told, is also an interest and challenge to me. There’s concern about taking a particular stance and sublimating story to polemics, worry that the story will lose artistic impetus and reader appeal, becoming mere reporting. As a long-time journalist, the emotional distance required by the discipline has been a worry to me in my fiction writing. There’s a big difference between telling stories that offer insights into deep questions and reporting details from the middle ground of composed facts and elicited comment. I’m glad Yan touched on this issue in his lecture. He has been criticized for his membership in the Chinese Communist Party and his defense of censorship, which are political judgements. These criticisms have also been leveled at other novelists, Nobel Laureate John Steinbeck comes to mind. I’m acutely sensitive to this debate having struggled with the issue during the writing of my latest novel, Adrift in the Sound

Concluding his lecture, Yan asked the Academy to “Bear with me, please, for one last story, one my grandfather told me many years ago: A group of eight out-of-town bricklayers took refuge from a storm in a rundown temple. Thunder rumbled outside, sending fireballs their way. They even heard what sounded like dragon shrieks. The men were terrified, their faces ashen. “Among the eight of us,” one of them said, “is someone who must have offended the heavens with a terrible deed. The guilty person ought to volunteer to step outside to accept his punishment and spare the innocent from suffering.

“Naturally, there were no volunteers. So one of the others came up with a proposal: Since no one is willing to go outside, let’s all fling our straw hats toward the door. Whoever’s hat flies out through the temple door is the guilty party, and we’ll ask him to go out and accept his punishment.” So they flung their hats toward the door. Seven hats were blown back inside; one went out the door. They pressured the eighth man to go out and accept his punishment, and when he balked, they picked him up and flung him out the door.

“I’ll bet you all know how the story ends: They had no sooner flung him out the door than the temple collapsed around them.”

Yan said that for a writer, the best way for writers to speak is by writing, by facing the maelstrom with words.

 “You will find everything I need to say in my works. Speech is carried off by the wind; the written word can never be obliterated. I would like you to find the patience to read my books. I cannot force you to do that, and even if you do, I do not expect your opinion of me to change. No writer has yet appeared, anywhere in the world, who is liked by all his readers; that is especially true during times like these.”
This observation came to mind after book reviewer Angie Mangino commented on my novel Adrift in the Sound. She’d agreed to review the book a couple of months ago and while a long time had elapsed since the requested review copy had been sent, I didn’t want to bother her in light of the catastrophe that has occurred in New Jersey and New York.

About the same time as Yan’s lecture, Angie sent this email: “Hurricane Sandy caused devastation here on Staten Island, so my review schedule is currently behind. I was one of the fortunate ones with only some damage to my house and 4 days without power. My best friends were not so fortunate, and will be staying with me until all the uncertainty is lifted and they can move forward. They lost their house, most of its contents and a car. My 90 year old mother-in-law lost her entire basement, making her home unlivable until mold & water damage is removed and her heater replaced and power is able to be restored. Thanks for your patience in my completing this review for you.”
Below is the review Angie posted to her Web site.
Her Facebook page is a place for authors and readers to meet, housing links to her book reviews, as well as links posted by authors and discussions.

Adrift in the Sound

By Kate Campbell 2012

Reviewed by Angie Mangino

Rating: 5 stars

Having reviewed Between the Sheets, an inside look of the editing process of publishing Adrift in the Sound, this reviewer began reading with very high expectations for excellence in Campbell’s novel.

She did not disappoint!

The protagonist, Lizette Karlson, captures readers immediately.

“’SO … YOU’RE HERE.’ Einar Karlson spoke to her through the screen door on the back porch. ‘When did you get out?’”

Immersed immediately in the story, readers hunger for answers that Campbell progressively supplies as the story unfolds, offering the right amount of hints and circumstances to keep them absorbed in the story.

Set in Seattle in 1973, with realistic characters that portray the unsettling times as they were then, how will Lizette survive? Or will she? What really matters?

Campbell leads readers to an ending that both satisfies and challenges.

Angie Mangino currently works as a freelance writer and book reviewer, additionally offering authors personalized critique service of unpublished manuscripts.

MLA style: “Mo Yan – Bibliography”. 8 Dec 2012

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