Sandalwood Death is set during the Boxer Rebellion (1898–1901)—an anti-imperialist struggle waged by North China’s farmers and craftsmen in opposition to Western influence. Against a broad historical canvas, the novel centers on the interplay between its female protagonist, Sun Meiniang, and the three paternal figures in her life. One of these men is her biological father, Sun Bing, an opera virtuoso and a leader of the Boxer Rebellion. As the bitter events surrounding the revolt unfold, we watch Sun Bing march toward his cruel fate, the gruesome “sandalwood punishment,” whose purpose, as in crucifixions, is to keep the condemned individual alive in mind-numbing pain as long as possible.
Filled with the sensual imagery and lacerating expressions for which Mo Yan is so celebrated, Sandalwood Death brilliantly exhibits a range of artistic styles, from stylized arias and poetry to the antiquated idiom of late Imperial China to contemporary prose. Its starkly beautiful language is here masterfully rendered into English by renowned translator Howard Goldblatt.
In 2012, the Nobel committee confirmed Mo Yan’s position as one of the greatest and most important writers of our time. In his much-anticipated new novel, Mo Yan chronicles the sweeping history of modern China through the lens of the nation’s controversial one-child policy.
Frog opens with a playwright nicknamed Tadpole who plans to write about his aunt. In her youth, Gugu—the beautiful daughter of a famous doctor and staunch Communist—is revered for her skill as a midwife. But when her lover defects, Gugu’s own loyalty to the Party is questioned. She decides to prove her allegiance by strictly enforcing the one-child policy, keeping tabs on the number of children in the village, and performing abortions on women as many as eight months pregnant.
In sharply personal prose, Mo Yan depicts a world of desperate families, illegal surrogates, forced abortions, and the guilt of those who must enforce the policy. At once illuminating and devastating, it shines a light into the heart of communist China.
Interspersed throughout the narrative—and Ding's faltering investigation—are letters sent to Mo Yan by one Li Yidou, a doctoral candidate in Liquor Studies and an aspiring writer. Each letter contains a story that Li would like the renowned author's help in getting published. However, Li's tales, each more fantastic and malevolent than the last, soon begin alarmingly to resemble the story of Ding's continuing travails in Liquorland. Peopled by extraordinary characters—a dwarf, a scaly demon, a troupe of plump, delectable boys raised in captivity, a cookery teacher who primes her students with monstrous recipes—Mo Yan's revolutionary tour de force reaffirms his reputation as a writer of world standing. Wild, bawdy, politically explosive, and subversive, The Republic of Wine is both mesmerizing and exhilarating, proving that no repressive regime can stifle true creative imagination.