MO Yan(莫言) wants you to read this novel, “Life and Death are Wearing Me Out”

What shall we do about MO Yan 莫言?

1) Yes, he’s the star in 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature. 2) He writes heavy-weight novels with seductive titles such as Big Breasts & Wide Hips. 3) But he writes in Chinese!

So, which book shall we start with? MO Yan announced today that the answer is:

MO Yan, Life and Death are wearing me out; English translation by Howard Goldblatt

I’ve just listened to an 8-minute telephone interview in Chinese with MO Yan on the Nobel Prize official website, so that you don’t have to. The interview was conducted following the announcement of the winner. The interviewer Yan Shuang Lindblom asked MO Yan to pinpoint one book for his readers.

To my surprise, MO Yan named this book:  生死疲劳 (Shengsi Pilao) (lit. “Life and Death are Wearing Me Out”), which has just been published in Sweden this year.


“This book encapsulates my writing styles. It also reflects my exploration in the arts of novel writing. ”

“This book reveals my thoughts on peasants and lands. These are major concerns in the Chinese history and reality. ”

“I employed the style of oriental surrealism in this novel. ”

What does it mean, Mr Mo?

“In this novel, human and animals are interchangeable (p/s: it’s about human being reincarnated into donkey, pig, dog, monkey…). Through the eyes of animals, I observed China’s social and historical changes in the past 50 years. ”

Your language in this novel, sir?

“I used the most liberal language to reflect my deepest thoughts. ”

“Therefore, this novel is a perfect combination with my thoughts on realities, my exploration in literature and my creative writing.”

How long did it take you to write this novel?

“Actually, It only took me 43 days to complete my first draft.”

“However, the protagonist had stayed in my mind for a few decades. This novel is based on real life.”

“When I was about 6 years old, I knew exactly of a peasant who challenged the People’s Commune single-mindedly. He remained unwaving. Historically he was right in the end. However, he appeared to be at adds with the society as an extremist. He scarified himself for keeping his values. This vivid character came to this novel easily. ”

MO Yan: interview from Stockholm after winning. Follow the link to listen to MO Yan’s interview in Chinese — if you really have to.

Weekly Writing Challenge: An ‘interview’ with MO Yan, potential Nobel Literature winner 2012

Congratulations to MO Yan (莫言)!

2012 Nobel Prize in Literature BY BIBLIOKLEPT

Time profile of the author

Easily Confused, # 10 by The Happy Hermit

The Mo Yan Poll by The Happy Hermit

Mo Yan wins Nobel prize in literature 2012 (

Mo Yan Wins 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature (

Chinese Novelist Mo Yan Wins the Nobel Prize for Literature (

10 thoughts on “MO Yan(莫言) wants you to read this novel, “Life and Death are Wearing Me Out”

  1. kerenbaker

    Fascinating. I was listening only yesterday about two influential Chinese poets- it’s then that you realise how little you know about things that are taken as givens by others. Thanks for stretching my brain and my view!

    1. Janet Williams Post author

      Hi Karen, Chinese culture and literature didn’t export very well in the past centuries, so the west has known very little about China culture, tough Chinese tourists are now everywhere. What sells? South Korea has managed to sell their soft culture brilliantly. Simply with one Gangnam style and they conquer the world.

    1. Janet Williams Post author

      Hi Yolanda,

      I haven’t read MO Yan’s translated work yet (I read some of his books in Chinese), so I’m not sure of the language used. I have a feeling that MO Yan’s work is slightly ‘heavier’, linguistically more versatile and challenging. Lots of cultural references are involved too. Fancy the idea of reincarnation? I love Lisa See. Her Peony in Love is just superb.

  2. ShimonZ

    Thank you very much for bringing us a part of the interview. It is fascinating to read his replies, and interesting to contemplate the Chinese society and culture. I wouldn’t say that I appreciate surrealism in literary works… and I have read a few reviews of his work that all seem to point in that direction, but I am still in the process of looking for one of his books in Hebrew (I’ve heard there are some translations), and looking forward to reading him.

  3. Pingback: Mo Yan: a storyteller’s moving reminiscence of life | Janet's Notebook

  4. Pingback: My Site Table of Contents – I did it! | Janet's Notebook

Post a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s