Apr 2018 Garlic Ballads

Garlic Ballads by Mo Yan

Book Group 1 - April









The book club read Nobel Prize winner Mo Yan’s Garlic Ballads in April.

This novel is set in rural China and is the story of the people living in Paradise County. They are peasants who mostly make their living growing garlic, and then there are the officials and the police. The Government has encouraged farmers to grow garlic and buys their entire crop, until one day there is a glut, they stop buying, creating a dire situation for the farmers and their families. What follows, is a riot and a draconian official response. The author uses this backdrop to take us through the intertwined lives of three families. It is vivid, sad and at times a hopeless tale of love, tradition and cultural upheaval.  Yet while the novel focuses on the events of Paradise County it also comes across as a broader commentary on China in transition. Forty years after the start of the revolution, 10 years after the Cultural Revolution, citizens were still dealing with inequality. One elite class replaced by another.


Our discussion group found the imagery very graphic (disturbingly so) and was moved by the human aspects of the story. We were also intrigued by peasantlife that continued to be governed by tradition and superstition. Yet it was interesting that none of us thought that the behavior of the officials and police, who were now the new elite, was extraordinary! Understandably we had differing opinions on a number of aspects, right down to whom the ultimate hero was in the book.

Brilliantly translated by Howard Goldblatt, we all thought we could actually smell the garlic!


Nazie Morad