Reviews for Big Breasts & Wide Hips
Booklist Reviews 2004 November #2
Chinese writer Yan is both revered and reviled for his blistering takes on modern China' s political landscape. (His acclaimed 1987 novel, Red Sorghum, was adapted into a major motion picture).This latest controversial epic, spanning the country's blood-splattered twentieth century, is set in fictional Northeast Gaomi County and narrated by fair-haired Jintong, the ninth child (and first son) of an indomitable woman known only as Mother. (Jintong's siblings all have different fathers, none of them Mother's impotent blacksmith husband.) Fathered by the town's Swedish pastor, spoiled Jintong takes full advantage of his role as the family's only male; at the age of seven, he still suckles at his mother's breast. In Yan's world, men are cowardly while women are admired for their courage and curves. His images run the gamut, from brutal renderings of war to a bizarre transformation of human to bird. The novel is, above all, a paean to the power of the female sex, but its voluptuous title scarcely reflects its tone. This is a haunting, daunting read that seldom loosens its gloomy grip. ((Reviewed November 15, 2004)) Copyright 2004 Booklist Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2004 October #1
In a sprawling saga that spans a century, the noted Chinese author chronicles the lives of the Shangguan family, graphically illustrating his country's violent past and corrupt present.Mo Yan has previously written of peasant life in China's rural provinces (The Republic of Wine, 2000, etc.); this time out, he goes to the distant Northeast Gaomi Township, a place of bitter winters, wide marshes, and fields of red sorghum. It is a place where animals and humans, especially women, are routinely abused, violent death is common, and life is mostly hard. For Mo Yan, what happens there is symptomatic of all the evils that have befallen China, and, though his story is never overtly polemical, it is transparently a stinging indictment. The narrator is Jintong, twin of blind Eighth Sister and the only son of Mother, Shangguan Lu, who, married to an impotent blacksmith, was impregnated by eight different men. Jintong's father is a Swedish missionary who lives in the village until he commits suicide during WWII, after anti-Japanese forces rape Mother. The tale begins with Jintong's birth, in 1939, followed by a brief flashback to the years following Mother's own birth, in 1900. Jintong is born as the invading Japanese army kills numerous villagers, including Mother's husband. But Mother is strong, like her daughters, who among themselves will marry a courageous Nationalist leader, the son-in-law Mother most respects; a communist commissar; an American bomber pilot, and a crippled mute soldier. One sister becomes a prostitute and another goes mad believing she is a bird. Jintong, who is obsessed with breasts and is nursed by Mother well into childhood, gets caught up in the Cultural Revolution and in the corruption of the new entrepreneurial China. As he struggles to survive the violent twists and turns of Chinese politics as they affect his village and his family, he becomes both the observant reporter and the witness of endemic bloodshed and cruelty.Ambitious, if at times prolix. Copyright Kirkus 2004 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Library Journal Reviews 2004 December #1
First published in China in 1996, this work by veteran Chinese writer Mo (Red Sorghum) is being issued in English for the first time, albeit in a shortened version. The story unfolds in the author's hometown of Gaomi, ranging from 1900 through the 1990s but focusing on the period known as the War of Resistance (1937-45). The orphaned Shangguan Lu is a determined woman: although her husband is impotent, she conceives nine children with several different men. The last child is her precious Jintong, who narrates the trials of his family in agonizing detail. Jintong's account makes real the cruelties of an ever-changing country, complete with war, poverty, hunger, abuse, rape, prostitution, and imprisonment. Complex and confrontational, Mo's book is far from an easy read, though the listing of just over two dozen principal characters does help. Those familiar with Li Qiao's Wintry Night and the writings of Gao Xingjian will not be surprised by the darkness here. Large public libraries with Asian literature collections and academic libraries with collections by Chinese authors will probably want to add this title.-Shirley N. Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2004 November #4
Ripe with spectacular detail and unflinching in its portrayal of the Shangguan family, this latest saga by Mo Yan (Red Sorghum) is a lavish feast for the senses sprawling across several decades and political regimes in 20th-century China's quasi-fictional North Gaomi region. Mo Yan's writing is bold and sometimes flinty as it draws humor from the direst of sources, and the story-the elaborate, fleet and episodic plot-is arresting and satisfying. The book opens as two creatures struggle to give birth: Shangguan Lu, the beleaguered mother of seven daughters, and the family donkey, who ends up getting the wealth of aid and sympathy from Lu's mother-in-law. It's a revealing scene that effectively lays out the themes of Mo Yan's brutal, inspired work and suggests the significance of its title: in a harsh environment like rural China where survival is not guaranteed but a privilege fought for every day, humans, and especially women, have only their bodies and their animal instincts to depend on, with fate often stepping in to play a cruel hand. However, this doesn't stop the daughters of grimly resolute Lu from developing into a clan of steely-eyed women who throughout the book make choices and meet destinies that are at turns heartening, vicious and breathtaking. Most of the book is narrated by Jintong, the weak and spoiled son who breast-feeds well into childhood, provoking derision and disgust from his sisters. His lack of stature makes him a compelling narrator, a frontline observer who is invested in the outcomes but always something of an outsider. The constant violence, rendered in Mo Yan's powerhouse prose, may make this too graphic a read for some, but those who are able to see the violence for what it is-an undeniable aspect of rural Chinese life-will find this a deeply rewarding book. (Nov.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.