Speaking from China

The intensely contested Literature Nobel goes to China’s Mo Yan,turning away from Europe

Written by The Indian Express | Published: October 12, 2012 3:02 am

Each year,bibliophiles turn their attention to the Swedish Academy for the anointment of a new author-slash-cultural-touchstone. The Nobel prize in literature is notable as much for who it continues to exclude from the canon as it is for the addition of a new voice to it. This year,eternal bridesmaid Philip Roth and Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami are the two authors who have most conspicuously remained unrewarded. But that must not detract from the work of the man who did win — China’s Mo Yan,a pen name for Guan Moye.

Mo,described in the Nobel committee’s citation as a writer whose “hallucinatory realism merges folk tales,history and the contemporary”,is one of China’s most prolific and widely read authors,and one whose work has often been banned in his home country. He is the first Chinese author to win; Gao Xingjian,author of Soul Mountain,and the winner in 2000,is a French citizen. Gao was accused of pandering to Western audiences,but the sweep and breadth of Mo’s work has led Howard Goldblatt,his frequent translator,to compare him to Charles Dickens. Mo,whose pseudonym translates to “don’t speak”,marries magical realism and satire in his exploration of Chinese society over the last hundred years with beautiful imagery that is lush,yet sharp. In Red Sorghum,his best known work,Mo ably chronicles peasant life in China through the Second World War and the early years of communist rule.

The Nobel prize has become the record of human achievement — an unfair burden,certainly — and it is no surprise that its selections are so heavily contested. After a decade in which the prize committee seems to have disproportionately rewarded European authors,a turn towards literature from other parts of the world is welcome,despite who might have gone unrewarded.

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