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Books

Book Review

‘Pow!’ and ‘Sandalwood Death’ by Mo Yan

Is there an abattoir so lethal as Chinese history? During Mao’s Great Leap Forward, the economic and social restructuring plan that began in 1958, it is estimated that up to 45 million people died, mostly from starvation. Such figures are beyond comprehension. This is killing on an industrial level, except the cause of these deaths was intimate, personal, agonizing.

Chinese literature is vast and rich, so it is possible there are giants of the novel who have addressed this ocean of death — and the trauma that travels on its ripples — with boldness and grace who are not yet known in English. Among the writers we have available to us in this country, however, none has returned Chinese history to human scale (if not always in human form) quite so vividly as Mo Yan.

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