Reviews for Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out

Booklist Reviews 2008 March #1
No good deed goes unpunished, the saying goes. That's certainly the case for Ximen Nao, the unlikely hero of Mo Yan's  new novel. During Mao's Land Reform Movement of 1948, the beneficent landowner is robbed of his property, then put to death. He endures prolonged torture in hell before he is allowed to return to Earth--and his own farm. Alas, there's a catch. He'll be coming back as a donkey, then an ox, a pig, a dog, a monkey, and finally, a large-headed boy. Narrating from the perspective of each animal, and a couple of humans, too, Mo Yan (Big Breasts and Wide Hips, 2004) takes aim at political and cultural ills that plague his native land. (He also mockingly refers to himself in the third person as a novelist whose stories are "filled with foggy details and speculation, and should be used for reference only.") Mo Yan is known for his prickly and provocative writing; his characters here are engaging and their observations often profound, but the novel becomes a bit tiresome by the time the simian scenario comes around. Copyright 2008 Booklist Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2008 February #2
Epic black comedy from the inventive Chinese author (Big Breasts and Wide Hips, 2004, etc.) frequently mentioned as a leading Nobel Prize contender.This novel is every bit as rambunctious and bizarre as the summary will suggest. The story begins in Hell, whose placid sadistic calm is disturbed by the bitter complaints of Ximen Nao, a prosperous landowner arrested and executed when Chairman Mao's policy of "land reform" required the seizure of Nao's property. Unable to extract the stubborn Nao's confession of wrongdoing, Lord Yama (aka Satan) agrees to "send him back" to earth. But Nao finds he isn't himself, as he lives through successive reincarnations as a donkey, ox, pig, dog and monkey during a half-century of the Cultural Revolution, up to the beginning of the new millennium. All these Naos relive the past as well as interact with his nearest and dearest (wife, concubines, children), his former handyman Lan Lian and such disturbing avatars of Mao's new society as militia commander and bean counter Huang Tong and Nao's upwardly mobile, amoral son Ximen Jinlong. This long story never slackens; the author deploys parallel and recollected narratives expertly, and makes broadly comic use of himself as a meddlesome, career-oriented hack whose versions of important events are, we are assured, not to be trusted. Mo Yan is a mordant Rabelaisian satirist, and there are echoes of Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy in this novel's rollicking plenitude (e.g., a typical chapter title announces "Wild Geese Fall, People Die, an Ox Goes Berserk/Ravings and Wild Talk Turn into an Essay").The recent Nobel awarded to Gao Xingjian may have ousted Mo Yan from the top level of contenders. If so, the selection committee may have to be "re-educated." He's one hell of a writer.First printing of 12,500 Copyright Kirkus 2008 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2008 April #1

Mo Yan's (Big Breasts & Wide Hips ) latest epic novel spans the years 1950-2000 and opens with landowner Ximen Nao, executed in Mao's Land Reform Movement of 1948, being fried to a crisp in hell. After negotiating with the king of the underworld, Nao returns to his village reincarnated in turn as a donkey, an ox, a pig, a dog, a monkey, and, finally, a big-headed boy. Though the concept is intriguing, the existence of multiple narrators often makes the story difficult to follow (the list of some dozen characters in the opening does, at least, help readers keep track of who's who). Also, the author liberally references a character sharing his own name who is very similar to himself throughout the story. These references seem unnecessary, narcissistic, and annoyingly disruptive to the narrative flow. Yan does manage to convey the difficulties of village life, complex character relationships, and occasional humor. But his work is not for the average reader and requires immense patience to follow through to the end. Academic and large public libraries with collections of translated works by Chinese authors will probably want to consider.--Shirley N. Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA

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