When the protagonist, Fugui, loses all his money and property because of his addictive gambling right at the beginning of the novel, To Live by Yu Hua (translated by Michael Berry) , we know that it will not be a typical hero who succeeds in all his endeavors.
What is the book about?
After squandering all his family’s wealth that was accumulated over a long period of time, Fugui is consigned to a small piece of land on the outskirts of his village. Not able to take the shock of Fugui’s mistake, his father soon dies while he is left to take care of his wife, mother and daughter, Fengxia.
Thus, from being a landowner’s whoring and gambling son, he becomes a mere peasant. The whole family now struggles to survive.
The Crazed by Ha Jin is told from the point of view of the student, Jian, who is under the guidance of Mr. Yang. But the novel starts with Mr Yang having suffered from a stroke and in the hospital in 1989.
WARNING: Spoilers Ahead!
Mr. Yang’s crazy outbursts while in hospital give a glimpse into his relationship with his student, Jian, as well as his past: affairs, his ill treatment under the Mao regime, his unconscious desire to have been a well respected official along with being a scholar among other things.
What is so interesting about The Crazed are the several literary references that pepper the novel, particularly Mr Yang’s lectures even in that delirious state about random literary subjects such as why Western poets use a persona to speak in their poems whereas the Chinese poets speak as themselves in the poems or his references to poets such as Goethe, Dante and several Tang poets like Tu Fu or Li Po.
It was astonishing how in that state he goes from “a political parrot” as Jian calls him, spewing Communist jingles to a lecture spewing professor.
The opening of Mo Yan’s Red Sorghum – a child of fifteen setting out to join his foster father’s mission to ambush the Japanese – sets the tone for the rest of the novel: not only violent but intensely detailed violence.
Within that violence is embedded the story of three generations of a Chinese family that lived before and through the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Cultural Revolution up to the 1970s.
The part which is most emphasised on is the first one: the life of the family before and through the Second Sino-Japanese War.
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