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.
field of yams to the west, and a recently harvested field of garlic to the south. After reining in his wagon, Gao Yang went to locate the delivery room. He was stopped from knocking by a hand attached to a man whose features were unclear in the dark. “Someone’s having a baby in there,” the man said hoarsely. The glow of a cigarette dangling from his lips flickered on his face. The smoke smelled good. “My wife’s having a baby, too,” Gao Yang said. “Get in line,” the man said. “Even to have a
deformed limb bore the scars of un-happiness and earned him people’s pity; but it was hideous, and that earned him their disgust. Her feelings for her brother matched her feelings for his game leg: pity on occasion, disgust the rest of the time. Pity and disgust, an emotional conflict that entangled her. Gao Ma’s cornfield rustled as a breeze swept past, tousling her hair and slipping under her collar to cool her off. Thoughts of Gao Ma made it both dangerous and necessary for her to look over
began to stir, and in no time a stream of passengers—bundles and baskets in hand, wives and children in tow—descended on Gate 10 like a swarm of bees. They formed a colorful mob, short and stubby. The couple opposite her acted as if there were no one else around. A pair of attendants walked up to the rows of benches and began nudging sleepers’ buttocks and thighs with broom handles. “Get up,” they insisted. “All of you get up.” Most of the targets of these nudges sat up, rubbed their eyes, and
came the millet crop, which was spread out to dry before being stored in vats and barrels. The threshing floor in front of Fourth Aunt’s home was swept clean by dusk, with stacks of aromatic chaff rising darkly beneath shimmering starlight. June breezes sweeping in from the fields made the lantern flame dance, despite the glass shade, against which green moths banged noisily—tick tick tick. No one was paying any attention to this except for Gao Ma. All the others sat or stood or squatted in the
“Commander, hurry, give the order,” wailed Zhang Kou. “Send your troops down the mountain … save our Big Sister Jiang … so many moths have died in the yellow lame of the lantern, our Big Sister Jiang is held captive, the masses fear for her safety. Comrades! We must be cool-headed—if they take our elder sister from us, I’ll be the one to grieve…. The old lady fires two pistols, her white hair flutters in the wind, tears stream down her face.” Say something, Zhang Kou. Sing, Zhang Kou. “My