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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Mo Yan

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To purchase Change

Title: Change
Author: Mo Yan
Genre: Novel
Written: (Eng. 2010)
Length: 117 pages
Original in: Chinese
Availability: Change - US
Change - UK
Change - Canada
  • Translated by Howard Goldblatt

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Our Assessment:

B : fine little look at life in changing times in China over the past decades

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Change is barely a work of fiction, as the first-person narrator named Mo Yan also insists:

this is essentially a memoir, and if not everything I write is historically accurate that's because after all these years there are gaps in my memory.
       In contrast to Mo Yan's often expansive novels it is also a very slim volume, barely over a hundred pages -- despite describing events spanning four decades, from 1969 to 2009.
       While amounting to a memoir, Mo is selective in what he presents. Much of the focus is on the transitional years after Mao's death, in the late 1970s, but scenes from both before and after tie the whole together. And while his own life is the main thread through the book, he pays as much attention -- and, at times, more -- to several of the other characters.
       The account begins in 1969 -- Mo opens the novel: "By rights, I should be narrating events that occurred after 1979", but finds he has to go back further -- and describes episodes involving two of his classmates, who also reappear in his life at later points, including in the near-present at the end. And the different lives these three characters lead across the decades is a good way of showing the radical changes China has undergone over that period.
       In the scenes from 1969 Mo lingers around school despite having been expelled, but he devotes more attention to the memorable scenes involving his classmates He Zhiwu (who also gets expelled) and Lu Wenli, the two other most significant characters (though a much-loved Gaz 51 truck also figures prominently through much of the story). He Zhiwu is in love with Lu, and would come back many years later to court her, but she follows a more traditional path (with some unusual twists). Over the decades, He Zhiwu becomes an enormously successful entrepreneur. Mo, meanwhile, joined the army as his only means of advancement -- as he notes about getting into college: "I had two chances -- slim and none" -- and pursues his literary ambitions, ultimately with success. By 1988 he is even admitted to the Beijing Normal University/Lu Xun Institute graduate programme -- the Chinese equivalent of a creative writing MFA -- though since he's already quite successful by that time he almost passes the chance up.
       Mo focuses closely on a number of episodes -- such as the long truck ride he took during his army days to Beijing, a city he thought he might never see again after that -- but, for example, discusses the protest movement of the late 1980s and the crackdown in 1989 in little more than passing. Still, this seemingly cursory tour over four decades does give a surprisingly good sense of the waves of change that rolled through China between 1969 and 2009, with He Zhiwu and Lu Wenli's accounts of what their adult lives have been like helping to complete the picture.
       Several episodes demonstrate that:
the affairs of the world are always in flux, that a happy fate can bring lovers together, that accidents happen all the time, and that the strange and curious are always with us. So what can I say ?
       Mo seems to be wondering what to say much of the time, but despite its loose, rambling quality, Change does offer a solid sliver of a picture of modern China over the past decades.
       A small work, but it has some appeal.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 March 2010

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Change: Review: Mo Yan: Other books by Mo Yan under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Chinese author Mo Yan (莫言) was born in 1955. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2012.

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