Book Review #5 – Big Breasts & Wide Hips by Mo Yan

Hey my loves!

Today, I’m going to talk about one of my latest reads. It was my first chinese book, Big Breasts & Wide Hips (pt. Peito Grande, Ancas Largas), by Mo Yan, the winer of nobel prize in literature of the year 2012.

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There’s not a lot of books from this author translated to portuguese, actually I think there’s only two: this one and another called “Change”. This one definitely caught my eye first. The only thing I knew was that this book talked about women, as the title suggests. It was reason enough for me.

While I waited for the book to be available in the public library, I did some research on the author. I realised that Mo Yan isn’t his real name. It translates to “don’t speak”. This has everything to do with the kind of novels that he writes. They are very political, exposing China and its communist regimes, with all the injustices and violence that comes with it. The books are also very sexual, the kind that’s repressed. I think it was a beautiful choice of a pen name since it’s definitely suiting.

This book tells the story from the moment the protagonist is about to be born. His mother has already seven other children, all girls. All she wishes for, as giving birth, is for that baby to be a boy. Then, the narrative progresses to the family’s, the Shangguans, life all through the 20th century. In between there’s a lot of wars (within China and with other countries), lot of poverty and suffering. You can probably count with your ten fingers the moments were most of the characters in a particular scene are truly happy.

I enjoyed this book a lot. I liked the fact that the narrator isn’t quite as you expect. As the only male in the family, Shangguan Jintong is very spoiled. Since an early age he develops a weird obsession with breasts. That makes him irrational and very impulsive most of times, which are things that don’t always go that well from him. The interesting thing to me is how he speaks of events, specially when they involve women. He lets all his cowardliness and jealousy get in the way of his judgment. We can’t really relay on what he tells us, we have to be rational and try to see things from a different perspective. That’s very challenging for a just-passing-through reader but it was amazing for me. I want my mind to be active, I want to be in the book. This narrator just made the experience a lot better that what it would have been without it.

In the back of the copy I read, it saids that the only people that are courageous along the story were the women. Every single men in this book spends most of his time running away from something. All the women, especially the ones from the Shangguan family do whatever they can to survive. Even thought not all make the best decisions, they decide to do them in order to have a better life (not only their owns but also the ones of the rest of the family). I didn’t always agree with this idea but it grew on me as I was reading. I came to understand these women decisions.

This book has a lot of the history of China in it. Some things I didn’t knew (like the war between China and Japan), some I did (like the Mao communist regime). I’m not into historical novels most of the times but I didn’t see this book as one of those. The historical events are only a background for all the important things. I particularly liked a passage where the people from that region are first introduced to cinema. It’s so beautifully described.

The only thing I didn’t like so much was the fact that sometimes things seem to be as bad as imaginable. But then, they get even worst! It seems like every single bad thing possible collapsed in the shoulders of the Shangguan mother. It made me awfully sad. I know that some people really have it badly but it all felt a bit over the top. Maybe I’m not being fair with the tragedies that happened in China during this time period. But it’s just the way that it came across to me.

In summary: I loved this book. It’s beautiful and powerful at the same time. I expected a lot from it but it didn’t let me down even a bit. Asian literature as a place in my heart since I absolutely love Haruki Murakami. But don’t take me wrong, Mo Yan has nothing to do with him. The styles and the content of the books couldn’t be more opposites. If you want to read something a bit different from our “usual” western literature, this one is a good example of what the rest of the world has to offer.

Thank you so much for reading this review!

Cat.

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One thought on “Book Review #5 – Big Breasts & Wide Hips by Mo Yan

  1. I don’t know, really, how bad things were there. A lot of people tried really hard to leave. But you often hear “How could things get worse?” and then they do.

    Liked by 1 person

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