The University of Oklahoma’s Honors College sponsors a number of book groups every semester. The groups meet weekly to discuss a few chapters of a book that is read over the course of the semester. I knew before coming to OU that I wanted to join one of these groups and ultimately decided to join one reading the book Life and Death are Wearing Me Out by Mo Yan. Mo Yan is a Chinese author who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2012. (Fun fact: Mo Yan is actually a pen name which translates to “don’t speak”).
This book has an extremely interesting premise. It opens two years after the
main character, Ximen Nao, died. He was executed for being a landlord during the Chinese communist revolution and has spent the last two years being tortured in hell while continuing to proclaim his innocence. The rest of the book follows Ximen Nao as he returns to earth, being reincarnated as different animals: first as a donkey, then an ox, a pig, a dog, a monkey, and finally a human again. Through the eyes of Ximen Nao and another narrator you see the effect that several of the most tumultuous decades in Chinese history have on the rural Ximen village. It is fascinating from a historical perspective but also has an incredibly engaging narrative and is full of dark, surrealist humor.
Life and Death are Wearing Me Out ended up being one of the best books I’ve read all year, and I would highly recommend it, especially to anyone who is interested in China or appreciates dark humor.