Summary and book reviews of Pow! by Mo Yan

Pow!

By Mo Yan

Pow!
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    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: Jan 2013,
    440 pages.
    Paperback: 15 Sep 2014,
    392 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Book Summary

In this novel by the 2012 Nobel Laureate in Literature, a benign old monk listens to a prospective novice's tale of depravity, violence, and carnivorous excess while a nice little family drama - in which nearly everyone dies - unfurls. But in this tale of sharp hatchets, bad water, and a rusty WWII mortar, we can't help but laugh. Reminiscent of the novels of dark masters of European absurdism like Günter Grass, Witold Gombrowicz, or Jakov Lind, Mo Yan's Pow! is a comic masterpiece.

In this bizarre romp through the Chinese countryside, the author treats us to a cornucopia of cooked animal flesh - ostrich, camel, donkey, dog, as well as the more common varieties. As his dual narratives merge and feather into one another, each informing and illuminating the other, Yan probes the character and lifestyle of modern China. Displaying his many talents, as fabulist, storyteller, scatologist, master of allusion and cliché, and more, Pow! carries the reader along quickly, hungrily, and giddily, up until its surprising dénouement.

Mo Yan has been called one of the great novelists of modern Chinese literature and the New York Times Book Review has hailed his work as harsh and gritty, raunchy and funny. He writes big, sometimes mystifying, sometimes infuriating, but always entertaining novels - and Pow! is no exception.

POW!
An Extract

Ten years ago, a winter morning; a winter morning ten years ago—what times were those? 'How old are you?' asks Wise Monk Lan, who has roamed the four corners of the earth, his whereabouts always a mystery, but who is, for the moment, living in an abandoned little temple. His eyes are open, his voice seems to emerge from a dark hole in the earth. I shudder on that hot, humid day in the seventh lunar month. 'It was 1990, Wise Monk, and I was ten,' I reply, muttering in a changed tone of voice. We are in a Wutong Temple located between two bustling mid-size cities, built, as the story goes, with funds sup- plied by an ancestor of the village head, Lao Lan. Although it nestles up to a well-travelled highway, few people come here to burn incense; visitors are a rarity to this building with its musty, outdated aura. A woman in a green over- coat, her hair pinned behind one ear with a red flower, sprawls through a breach in the temple wall that appears...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Pow! is a worthwhile addition to any library, if for no other reason than its frame of reference, which is so foreign to most Western readers. The viewpoint it provides is likely to be quite enlightening to those unfamiliar with Chinese culture. I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in developing a better understanding of everyday life in this part of the world.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

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Media Reviews
The New York Times

[Pow! is] a portrait of a boy who, in some ways, refuses to grow up. YetPow! is staunchly adult in its concerns. It's a reminder that so much of life and literature is about, as the narrator puts it, 'putting a knife in white and taking it out red.'

The Washington Post

"Mo Yan's Pow! is a pyrotechnic display of how to blow up one's personal life to mythic proportions.

Seattle Times

Mo Yan spares the reader nothing. He recounts matters disgusting, ugly, raunchy, repulsive, sexually graphic, ineffably sad, occasionally joy-filled—all of which combine to make a novel larger than life.

Los Angeles Times

Mo the public figure is careful with words. But Mo the novelist slips past the censors by dressing up his cutting realism in absurd and fantastic clothing. In doing so, he's embracing a long tradition that stretches from Cervantes to the German novelist Günter Grass. . . . Mo’s skill makes Pow! a wild, unpredictable ride—a work of demented and subversive genius.

The Boston Globe

Like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose work Mo Yan has claimed as an inspiration, sometimes the images in Pow! overflow, and the very point of his writing is that abundance. Unlike the magical realists, however, there is a lucid clarity to Mo Yan’s best writing. In this country he is akin to William T. Vollmann, whose books are long and dense with harrowing and acute images.

Publishers Weekly

If China has a Kafka, it may be Mo Yan. Like Kafka, Mo Yan has the ability to examine his society through a variety of lenses, creating fanciful, Metamorphosis-like transformations or evoking the numbing bureaucracy and casual cruelty of modern governments.

The Economist

Pow! is a Rorschach inkblot of a book, and all the better for not telling the reader what to think. Within the book, meat is everywhere and everything. What that means could be anything.

Financial Times

Mo, winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature, was much criticized in the days following the award for his perceived cozy relationship with the Chinese government and reluctance to stand up for freedom of expression. Such judgments, however, are challenged by his bold, outlandish and far from apolitical new novel. Like his earlier works, Pow! defies easy definition. It is national and personal in its concerns, surreal and real, and as comic as it is serious.

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Mo Yan and the Nobel

Nobel Laureate Mo Yan Mo Yan is the pen name of Guan Moye. Born 17 February 1955, Guan was the fourth child of farmers in Gaomi township in Shandong province in the northeast part of China. He says of his childhood:

"When I started forming memories, it was the most difficult time in China's history. Most people were starving at the time. People led a tough life. People starved to death all the time, even in my village. I think that children's memories from such times can be haunting. I remember that there were many children in the village. When the sun came out in winter, we all sat by a wall and bathed in the sun. Our clothes were all torn and ripped. We were barely covered. We also had bloated stomachs, because of lack of nutrients. Our legs and arms ...

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