The Garlic Ballads: A Novel
Mo Yan, Howard Goldblatt
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The farmers of Paradise County have been leading a hardscrabble life unchanged for generations. The Communist government has encouraged them to plant garlic, but selling the crop is not as simple as they believed. Warehouses fill up, taxes skyrocket, and government officials maltreat even those who have traveled for days to sell their harvest. A surplus on the garlic market ensues, and the farmers must watch in horror as their crops wither and rot in the fields. Families are destroyed by the random imprisonment of young and old for supposed crimes against the state.
The prisoners languish in horrifying conditions in their cells, with only their strength of character and thoughts of their loved ones to save them from madness. Meanwhile, a blind minstrel incites the masses to take the law into their own hands, and a riot of apocalyptic proportions follows with savage and unforgettable consequences. The Garlic Ballads is a powerful vision of life under the heel of an inflexible and uncaring government. It is also a delicate story of love between man and woman, father and child, friend and friend—and the struggle to maintain that love despite overwhelming obstacles.
responsibility for anything I say,” he replied with a slight stammer. “In my view, the Paradise County garlic incident has sounded an alarm: any political party or government that disregards the well-being of its people is just asking to be overthrown by them!” A hush fell over the courtroom; the air seemed to vibrate with electricity. The pressure on Gao Yang’s eardrums was nearly unbearable. The presiding judge, face bathed in sweat, literally shook. In reaching for his tea, he knocked it
try?” Wang Tai asked. “Who’s next?” No takers. Some of the smaller kids ran out onto the athletic field and shouted, “Come over here, quick! The sixth-graders are seeing who’ll drink his own pee!” Wang Tai turned to another of the sixth-graders. “Li Shuanzhu, go out there and take care of those little pussies.” Then he lowered his voice. “Hey, guys, do you know how girls pee?” They said they didn’t. Wang Tai spread his legs, squatted down, and made a hissing sound with his mouth. “Like that.”
of which sported the word “Men” in a red circle. Dozens of pail-toting prisoners lined up in single file waiting to enter the room. One came out, another went in, over and over. When it was his turn, he walked inside, barefoot, and was immediately ankle-deep in a sickening mixture of mud and human waste. An open pit filled the center of the outhouse, and it was all he could do to keep from falling dizzily into it as he dumped his load. The other prisoners lined up beside a rusty water tap near
were busy handing out slips of paper from their black satchels. An argument erupted between one of them and a young fellow in a red vest who spoke his mind: “You bunch of cunt babies are worse than any son of a bitch I can think of!” The traffic controller calmly slapped him across the face without batting an eye. “Who do you think you are, hitting me like that?” the young man in the red vest shrieked. “That was a love tap,” the traffic controller replied in a level voice. “Let’s hear what else
a dog all his life, and now that he’s dead is he to be denied the comfort of a warm kang? That would be more than I could stand.” Number Two remarked, “He is dead, after all, so a regular bed is just as good. ‘Death is like extinguishing a light,’ as the saying goes. ‘Breath becomes a spring breeze, flesh and bones turn to mud.’ If you put him on a heated kang, he’ll turn bad even faster.” “In other words, do you plan to let your own father lie outside?” “It’s as good a place as any,” Number