RAS Book Club

RAS Library

Big Breasts & Wide Hips: Mo Yan

RAS BOOK CLUB

Monday  17 November 2014 at 7 pm
Venue: RAS Library, Sino-British College
The RAS Book Club will meet to discuss:

Big Breasts & Wide Hips
by Mo Yan

translated by Howard Goldblatt
ISBN: 1559706724
Publisher: Arcade Publishing
Publication Date: 4 January 2012 (re-issued)
532 pages
Copies of the book will be available at RAS events prior to this meeting. You may also obtain a copy of the book by contacting the RAS Book Club (see below).
Entrance: RMB 20 (RAS Members) and RMB 50 (non-members) including a drink (tea, coffee, soft drink, or glass of wine). Those unable to make the donation but wishing to attend may contact us for exemption, prior to this RAS Book Club event. Member applications and membership renewals will be available at this event.
N.B. RESERVATIONS ESSENTIAL AS SPACE IS LIMITED AT THIS EVENT.
THE BOOK
In a country where men dominate, this epic novel is first and foremost about women.  As the title implies, the female body serves as the book’s most important image and metaphor.  The protagonist, Mother, is born in 1900.  Married at 17 into the Shangguan family, she has nine children, only one of whom is a boy, the narrator of the book, a spoiled and ineffectual child who stands in stark contrast to his eight strong and forceful female siblings.  Mother, a survivor, is the quintessential strong woman, who risks her life to save the lives of several of her children and grandchildren. 
The writing is full of life–picturesque, bawdy, shocking, imaginative.  Each of the seven chapters represents a different time period, from the end of the Qing dynasty up through the Japanese invasion in the 1930s, the civil war, the Cultural Revolution, and the post-Mao years.  In sum, this stunning novel is Mo Yan’s searing vision of 20th-century China.
Mo Yan has a great and growing reputation as China’s most original, and most fiercely independent, writer.
Though Big Breast & Wide Hips was awarded China’s most prestigious prize for fiction, it soon ran afoul of the guardians of official morality and was banned.
THE AUTHOR (from nobelprize.com)
Mo Yan (a pseudonym for Guan Moye) was born in 1955 and grew up in Gaomi in Shandong province in north-eastern China.  His parents were farmers.  As a twelve-year-old during the Cultural Revolution he left school to work, first in agriculture, later in a factory.  In 1976 he joined the People’s Liberation Army and during this time began to study literature and write.  His first short story was published in a literary journal in 1981.  His breakthrough came a few years later with the novella Touming de hong luobo (1986, published in French as Le radis de cristal 1993).
In his writing Mo Yan draws on his youthful experiences and on settings in the province of his birth.  This is apparent in his novel Hong Gaoliang Jiazu (1987, in English, Red Sorghum, 1993). The book consists of five stories that unfold and interweave in Gaomi in several turbulent decades in the 20th century, with depictions of bandit culture, the Japanese occupation and the harsh conditions endured by poor farm workers.  Red Sorghum was successfully filmed in 1987, directed by Zhang Yimou.  The novel Tiantang Suantai Zhi Ge (1988, in English, The Garlic Ballads, 1995) and his satirical Jiuguo (1992, in English, The Republic of Wine, 2000) have been judged subversive because of their sharp criticism of contemporary Chinese society.
Fengru Feitun (1996, in English, Big Breasts & Wide Hips, 2004) is a broad historical fresco portraying 20th-century China through the microcosm of a single family. The novel Shengsi Pilao (2006, in English, Life and Death are Wearing Me Out,  2008) uses black humour to describe everyday life and the violent transmogrifications in the young People’s Republic, while Tanxiangxing (2004, to be published in English as Sandalwood Death, 2013) is a story of human cruelty in the crumbling Empire. 
Through a mixture of fantasy and reality, historical and social perspectives, Mo Yan has created a world reminiscent in its complexity of those in the writings of William Faulkner and Gabriel García Márquez, at the same time finding a departure point in old Chinese literature and in oral tradition.  In addition to his novels, Mo Yan has published many short stories and essays on various topics, and despite his social criticism is seen in his homeland as one of the foremost contemporary authors.
The celebrated and prolific Chinese author Mo Yan won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature.
THE TRANSLATOR 
 “They say translators are frustrated writers,” Howard Goldblatt explained as he waited impatiently in his blue stick-shift BMW behind a silver sedan.  “I’m not a frustrated writer.  I’m a frustrated Formula-1 driver.”
Goldblatt, 73, is the foremost Chinese-English translator in the world.  Over the course of his almost 40-year career, he has translated more than 50 books, edited several anthologies of Chinese writings; received two NEA fellowships, a Guggenheim grant and nearly every other translation award.  In the first four years of the Man Asian Literary Prize, three of the winners were translations by Goldblatt.  John Updike, writing in The New Yorker, said that “American translators of contemporary Chinese fiction appear to be the lonely province of one man, Howard Goldblatt.”
Goldblatt translated almost all of Mo Yan’s novels into English and submitted a letter of nomination to the Nobel Prize Committee.  
RSVP: bookevents@royalasiaticsociety.org.cn

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