Reading Vasili Grossman in the time of Mo Yan

I have just begun reading Part III of Mo Yan’s “Life and Death are wearing me out”  (a little over one third of the book) and have mixed feelings about it. What works for me is the narrative of post- revolutionary China, particularly about the Cultural Revolution. What also works are the different points of view, a robust sense of humour amidst a tumultus period of China’s post- Revolution history and a literary flourish that make the book a page turner.

What doesn’t seem to be working is the quirkiness of the narrative, tangential diversions and exaggeration- much in the style of Garcia Marquez in “One Hundred Years of Solitude” which I liked the first time I read “One Hundred…” but found it irritating while reading the second time.

Mo Yan’s style also contrasts with another book that I happened to be reading alongside- “Everything Flows” by Vasili Grossman.

The collectivization of the peasantry, among other changes in the post Revolutionary Soviet Union up to Stalin’s death are very similar to those in China in the 1950s and 60s. Yet, the contrast between the two writers could not be more striking- Mo Yan is verbose and humourous while Grossman has used tight prose and is uniformly serious, digressing into long soliloquies on Lenin, Stalin and a grand sweep on Russia’s thousand years of history. It was refreshing to read a simply written, straightforward novella that is no less – if not more, engaging than “Life and Death…”. I finished the 200 page “Everything Flows” in a couple of weeks, much moved by its sparse but surgically precise prose.

I continue to plough through “Life and Death are wearing me out”, and if I am not worn out by the time it is finished, will post a longer review.

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3 thoughts on “Reading Vasili Grossman in the time of Mo Yan

  1. umashankar

    I know how it feels when you plough through a book. I am sorry Mo Yan is making you do that, I’ve had bigger plans on his works. Do come back and tell us if life and death wore you out. I’ll be waiting! :)

    Reply
  2. bhupinder Post author

    I cannot but help feel that Mo Yan is playing to the gallery. His attempts to be an entertainer makes him more contemporary when serious literature too has to be “fun”, even if it means being pointless. It is his keen observation of life in the China of 1950s and 60s that makes one “plough on”, and it can be quite an effort sometime.s.

    Reply
  3. Pingback: The Year Gone By- 2014 | a reader's words

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