Medical fails

Things that have been wrong with me in the past months:

  1. Weight gain
  2. Itchiness in weird spots
  3. Weird sunburn thing on my back
  4. Teeth falling apart
  5. Digestive system shot

I decided to fix 3. and 4. since I had been living with them for a while. Bad idea.

After much hoing and humming, I got a tooth extracted. It was fine – well as fine as a tooth that was deeply rooted, although infected, can be – until it was not. Had crazy pain for two days, before I saw the dentist who was like – how are you cleaning it? I was like: erm, maybe you should have given me some instructions on what to do instead of letting me leave with a mouthful of blood? Anyway, he sent me off with a stronger painkiller and instructions to brush (!), then chided me again when I went back to remove the stitches, as if the fact that I have an infected gum is my fault for not dreaming that I should have brushed an open wound.

Consider the irony, I got a tooth extracted because my gum was infected, now I have lost a tooth and my gum is still infected.

Dentist asks me what I want to do with the other tooth. Nothing, I think. I will live with my dodgy tooth and infected gum, thank you.


After generally living with on and off diarrhoea for oh five (10?) years, I decided I should get my bowels checked out. Scheduled a colonoscopy, then regretted it when I saw the prep involved laxatives and near-starvation.

I fail to understand why a person who has regular diarrhoea needs a laxative. To add to it, I got my period during that time so I was cramping and running to the loo anyway. But no, instructions must be followed.

The instructions were only carbs and protein for two days, which I could do, and avoided spicy food for good measure, and then laxative at night. I had severe runs the next night, so the nurse caved and asked me to skip the laxative one night.

Then one day of only liquid diet – with 3 to 4 pieces of white bread allowed if starving. When I told my mum this is, she said: “what nonsense, how can you only eat white bread with nothing.”

Turns out you can.

See, I have never fasted. My family’s version of fasting is eating vegetarian food on Friday’s in Lent, and skipping tea and dessert on Good Friday.

But it turns out, it is entirely possible to spend 24 hours on water, soup and three pieces of toast. Maybe having the runs helps.

Honestly, I was astonished. A colleague had planned to do a 48-hour fast subsisting on only  lemon water and had said that hunger comes in waves and it’s a mental thing that can be ignored. I scoffed. Honestly, if I don’t eat regularly, I get gas and acidity – not to mention a very bad mood.

But it turns out, it is actually possible to go a day without proper food and even be productive. I had arranged to work from home in case I fainted, but it turns out I finished work in short order – maybe because my lunch break consisted of downing a bowl of soup while trying to switch on the Apple TV and then giving up.

Then, I spent four hours that night pissing through my ass, had my last sip of water at 4.55 am and then didn’t drink another sip till a good 11 am. Which is again astounding. I am constantly sipping water, so not being allowed to drink water from 5 am onwards worried be. I’m now convinced I drink too much water in addition to eating too much food.

Anyway, it turns out my large intestine is fine. So back to square one.

Then again, I did lose 3 kg over the 3 days. Which is a pretty good result I think.

I am now trying to eat only soup noodles for lunch – luckily living in Hong Kong means bland food is never lacking – and skipping the tea-time snack (gasp!). It’s been two days, and the bland food is getting old.

While it lasts, I’ve dug out the shirts that were a little too snug in my cupboard.

My plan was to clinch the deal with exercise, but unfortunately, I’m too hungry to run.


Sense and Sensibility, and Serena Williams


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So, okay, another book post.

But! I am remedying my paucity of Austen reading, having just confessed to it.

There has been reams written on Jane Austen’s work so far be it for me to even attempt to say anything new or worthwhile. However:

1. Having read Pride and Prejudice first (one of my all-time favourite novels ever), I blasphemously began to think that the two novels were too similar. Two women of modest means fall in love, are thwarted (the lovers absent themselves), a rival woman presents herself, one man proves to be a rake, over-talkative maternal figure, snooty elderly aristocrat etc.

But then I realised – the difference is the perspective. Sense and Sensibility is written from viewpoint of the sensible and good sister, Pride and Prejudice from that of the feisty one.

Of course, Elizabeth is a far cry from Marianne in intensity, but maybe that’s why she’s Austen’s perfect heroine – all that strong feeling but tempered by good manners and judgement.

2. An aside: Why does Jane Austen always write in pointless extra sisters? In Pride and Prejudice, Kitty, and here, even more so, Margaret. Oh Austen experts, do explain.

3. Marianne typifies the excess of emotions that came to be known as the romantic sensibility. Elinor represents the demands for people to hem their feelings in, in the wider social interest.

The introduction to the Penguin edition of the novel I read cited Foucault who talked about how there was explosion of diagnoses of mental illness in the 19th C. Women were, of course, prone to hysteria.

Marianne expresses this hysteria in her scream at the heart of the novel when she receives Willoughby’s letter. While Austen seems to circumscribe her heroines in the need for good manners (and thus curtailing their emotions), she gives Marianne this space to grieve … and scream.

3. Now Serena. A big, black woman playing a white man’s sport, who has been slighted since she and her sister made their presence felt on court. A black woman whose rage will always be unruly.

Serena is our Marianne. She refuses to play by the rules and be either nice or dainty. Serena broke the rules of the game – the game of polite society in which women must contain their emotions, must express them rationally. How many of us have been told by men: “don’t yell.”

Serena touches this nerve of the Marianne in us. She is the big woman told to make herself smaller. She is the black woman whose rage threatens the social order because it is twice alien – black and female.

Like Austen did, we know the rules of propriety. And yet, can we help sympathising with the woman who broke them?

I read a Russian novel and I liked it


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But first, some clarifications

  1. The novel was Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  2. If you’re wondering whether this has become a books blog, not intentionally. But since the PhD, I have been reading like a fiend. The stuff I post here is a drop in the ocean of my entire reading existence. I’ve been reading tonnes of fiction but also some theoretical stuff.
  3. Life has been going fairly smoothly since I started the new job and though I have rants connected to it, nothing I would want to post online. I’m also fairly busy, so when I think of random things, I don’t always have the time to pound out a post, alas, and then I lose the momentum for it.
  4. The fact that I have a Master’s in English Literature and never read any of the great Russian novels has been a niggling botheration over the years. On the one hand, as I age, I have come to believe that life is too short to waste reading stuff you’re not into given as that there are so many great books that one could alternatively read and enjoy (I have the same approach to dessert – no point eating, say, jelly if you don’t like wobbly stuff because it’s not like those calories are nutrition and they’re basically going to sit on your hips forever). On the other hand, I felt I should at least try to read a great Russian novel, or rather, try again – because my one attempt at The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky gave me a headache but that was while I had malaria so the jury is out on what the cause of the headache is.
  5. Gratuitous confession – I have only read Pride and Prejudice of all Jane Austen’s novels. I keep feeling I should read at least one more so that I can justify claiming to be an Austen fan, but I’ve never managed to get through any of the others. What say you – can I be a card-carrying member of the Austen club having read only one novel?

Speaking of Austen (and I have no idea why I seem to be writing in point form, possibly in an attempt to pre-empt my propensity to go off on tangents, which is clearly happening anyway):

  1. My first impression of Anna Karenina was that it was Austenian. An aristocratic family, three sisters, courtship. Why on earth was I so scared of this novel?
  2. Crazy Rich Asians came up and colleague commented derisively about it (having never read it) and then I said it’s Austenian, and he said, “You like Austen?” and proceeded to tell me some disparaging thing Mark Twain had said about Austen. I mean, this is the year two thousand and eighteen of our lord jesus jones and we still have to defend Austen to condescending men, do we?
  3. Of course, noone would dare criticise Tolstoy, although Anna Karenina proceeds very similarly. The difference is, however, the breadth. It proceeds past courtship and scandal to early married life, pregnancy and death so that it could never be excused of providing a fairytale ending without tearing the veil of what comes after.
  4. Of course, I liked the courtship and marriage parts best. Tolstoy has an – dare I say it (and I mean it as the ultimate compliment) – feminine way of observing social relations and getting into people’s heads. Like how women are totally into weddings, while the men are basically indifferent, except the bridegroom who is both clueless and totally moved. Having read the wedding scene in the novel on the back of Crazy Rich Asians (lookit here, I brought Crazy Rich Asians together with not only Austen but also Tolstoy!), I’ve decided that as jaded as I am about marriage, I am just going to be one of those people that smiles like a fool (and sometimes even tears up) at weddings. I guess weddings are like births, they’re like hope in a pretty pink/white wrapping paper. You know it’s going to be a nightmare after, but they can’t help but provoke euphoria.
  5. Also, I like that Tolstoy takes love seriously. None of this pomo irony about romance. No siree, Levin will be all gloomy and fed up with life, the universe, and everything, then he sees Kitty and it’s like, heh, everyone is wonderful. Isn’t that basically love? (at its best, anyway).
  6. Levin’s take on intellectuals also hit quite close to home – something along the lines of people going on and on about the rights of this and that but usually living in comfortable homes for whom the poor/marginalised etc are an academic problem. Well intentioned, but somehow disconnected. My time in academia showed me that a lot of people I thought were deeply involved in some cause – making me feel somehow lacking by not being activisty enough – actually were dabbling and moved on from that cause once their academic interest shifting. This is not everyone, and academics deserve credit for thinking through and being socially engaged, just that sometimes all the outrage and earnestness seems to … performative. And also tiring.
  7. That said, Tolstoy hammered this home a bit too much, what with the long description of the bewildering voting process, discussions on farming, meaning of life whatevs. I suppose we are supposed to marvel at the depth of Levin/Tolsoy’s mind, but I just wished they would move on to the relationships.
  8. While Levin is apparently a stand-in for Tolstoy, he offers a refreshingly female-sympathetic perspective. For example, when Levin judges Dolly on her parenting, Tolstoy writes that Dolly had thought through all the things Levin did and arrived at this as the best way to parent her child (and I feel like this passage would be apt on our local mom’s Facebook page). Or when Levin thinks Kitty is just “doing nothing”, Tolstoy writes that Kitty knows what is coming in her role as wife and would like to just enjoy this early free period a bit. There is also an amazing description of birth (from Levin’s and thus a male perspective, but one that honours the experience, even as it honestly conveys both the father’s awe and his detachment from the wriggly red baby)
  9. Have you noticed that I mentioned Anna Karenina, the woman who the book is named after, very little. This is because I didn’t love her, even found her annoying at the end, though apparently Tolstoy deliberately left Anna as an enigma and the annoyance that one feels with her is exactly what one drives her to desperate measures. The way the novel ties the beginning and the end through a dream is just one of those flourishes that puts Tolstoy there among the greats.
  10. To my utter astonishment, as I began reading the novel, I had the feeling that it would be up there on my favourites list. When I finished it, I would say that half of it is one of my favourite novels. I feel it went on a tad too long, but there is something to be admired in its scope.

    Now I’m all, I need to read more Russians. What next – Gogol? Pushkin?





Very boring things (in Hong Kong)


1. People dissing mainland Chinese people for everything wrong with the city. This is a longstanding Hongkonger “quirk” if you may, but a recent egregious example is this New York Times piece which highlights mainlanders as the cause of rising international school prices. Please.

2. People dissing Crazy Rich Asians without having seen the movie, leave alone having read the book. Boring.

3. People criticising everything the Hong Kong government does as a kind of knee jerk reaction. Au contraire, my dears, while the government has its flaws, the city is only slipping from its alleged pinnacle. Of course, complaining is Hong Kong’s favourite mode, one I’m not immune to, but when you’re a journalist at least don’t just reflexively rebel no?

End of rant. What’s been annoying you these days?

Hong Kong reading list


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So from my reading binge on books on China, I segued into reading books about Hong Kong.

I started with James Clavell’s Asian saga, specifically the Hong Kong books Tai Pan and Noble House.

Tai Pan is set at the dawn of Hong Kong and the island’s transformation from barren rock to thriving port in the aftermath of the Opium War. It follows the fortunes of Dirk Struan, loosely based on the opium trader William Jardine.

Struan is presented as a rakish, devil-may-care person with nerves of steel, who is both ruthless and who has luck on his side. The novel opens with the proclamation of Hong Kong as a colony of Great Britain, and the entire plan is dreamed up as Struan’s project.

Early on, I had some impatience with reading a narrative entirely from a white man’s perspective. It struck me that I should be reading Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy instead, the first book of which I had read years earlier. Like Ghosh’s book, a large part of Tai Pan is written in pigdin of the time and I found that somewhat hard going too, authenticity or not.

I persevered with Tai Pan and managed to get into it, and Struan did grow on me. The book literally charts how Hong Kong came to be and it not but hold fascination from me – from the earliest warehouses on the coast to the Happy Valley racecourse to the influx of Chinese and the settlements in Tai Ping Shan.

What was most fascinating to me was the parallel society of the Chinese, with its own power structures. While Hong Kong today presents itself as an east-meets-west entrepot, anyone who has been here for a while will soon notice (or maybe not, some expats are truly oblivious) that it is less melting pot and more two societies carrying on in parallel with the majority tolerating the presence of the outsiders, who were once the founts of power. Reading this book made me realise that this separation goes back to the very origins of Hong Kong itself.

On the one hand, it is the whites who (apparently) determine the destiny of and control Hong Kong. But the white man’s perspective is complicated by the fact that in some ways they are being influenced, if not manipulated, by Chinese society.

This is apparent in Dirk Struan’s relationship with May-May, his Chinese mistress who he dotes on and who he is unaware is the granddaughter of Jinqua, the powerful Chinese co-hung merchant. There is an extremely problematic scene at the beginning of the novel in which Struan spanks May-May, she fights him but then succumbs and admits that she deserved it (yech!). Yet, Struan basically loves her – when she is sick, he moves heaven and earth to save her, something he didn’t do for his own brother.

I found May-May. the workings of Chinese society and especially Gordan Chen, Struan’s son from his first mistress who goes on to found the House of Chen, more intriguing than the British society.

While Struan wanted to continue trading opium and was firm about defending their right to do so, his justification for the foundation of Hong Kong was construed as more noble – a long-term plan to open up China to the world. The idea was that he loved China and wanted to do what was best for it, even if China didn’t know or realise this – the good old white saviour complex.

I should mention that apart from the interaction between the British merchants and the Chinese, the plot basically turns around the rivalry between Struan and Tyler Brock. While one can’t help getting caught up in who will prevail in this contest – or rather how Struan will prevail – I did not actually care too much about Brock.

The end of the novel, when it came, was, however, a shocker.


Having got through but not entirely enjoyed Tai Pan, I felt obliged to read Noble House. And within a few pages, I realised I was going to love it. And reading Tai Pan became worth it because it provided the backstory for the events in Noble House. It is entirely possible to read Noble House without reading Tai Pan, but there is an extra frisson of delight knowing the backstory and seeing how it played forward. Given how much I loved Noble House, I’m pretty sure I would have read Tai Pan afterwards, so I’m glad I read it in the correct order.

Noble House is set in Hong Kong of the 60s, when the colony was well established and opium a thing of the past. Like Tai Pan, at the centre of Noble House is the rivalry between Dirk Struan’s descendant Ian Dunross and Tyler Brock’s descendant Quillan Gornt (I have no idea why Gornt had to have such a weird name). Both are tai pan of their respective business empires, but like Struan, Ian is the tai pan of Hong Kong, the alpha males of alpha males.

Into this hothouse of testosterone (of the stiff upper lipped British variety) lands the very American Casey Tcholok, vice president of Par Con, an American firm that is interested in investing in Struans, and her boss Lincoln Bartlett. The novel is a page-turner from the get go, when guns are discovered on Bartlett’s plane. From then we traverse through not only M&A, takeovers, a run on a bank which threatens the entire financial future of Hong Kong, the drug trade and triads,  international spy rings and the cold war and the looming presence of China and the handover.

Some have commented that this makes Noble House three or four books rather than one, but I loved it. As long as you don’t expect a quick finish and set out for the long ride, you’re good to go.

Like Tai Pan, this book shows the parallel British and Chinese societies, but they are much more integrated now. There are Chinese businessmen and Chinese banks and the two communities mingle socially, but the British hold onto control. Like Tai Pan, though, there is a whole teeming Chinese society underneath that sees and knows all.

Ian Dunross faces everything that fate throws his way with nerves of steel and unflappable class, making him heart-throb extraordinaire. The only off note is his sexism, which is presented as a British thing. Clavell lays bare the chauvinism of British society, through Casey, who is Bartlett’s trusted lieutenant but who struggles with the reactions of the male-dominated world of power in Hong Kong and the strictly separated social spheres in which women are dismissed to powder their noses at dinner parties while the boys discuss business. Ian accepts Casey with more grace than some of his peers, but he also insists of these protocols.

There is a seething chemistry between Ian and Casey that never gets consumated. In fact, Casey feels attraction of several of the powerful men in the novel – Ian, Quillan, Lando Mata (the Macau tycoon) but in the end, her heart is with Bartlett. For his part, while around him mistresses and liaisons with prostitutes abound, Ian remains faithful to his wife Penelope.

Apart from the business shenanigans, the spy sub-plot in the novel and Hong Kong’s place as the centre of cold war politics is fascinating. When whistle-blower Edward Snowden decided to seek harbour in Hong Kong, he was harking back to this history.

Of course, after finishing the novel, I had to hunt down the miniseries, which features Pierce Brosnan as Dunross. The series was shot in the 80s, and it surprised me how many landmarks are still recognisable today. The casting was pretty perfect, but I have to say that Brosnan was a tad hammy in his delivery of Dunross, even if I cannot picture him or anyone else any other way now. The miniseries does a pretty good job of representing many of the novel’s major plot points, though it could not possibly encompass all its fabulous complexity.  [spoiler alert] The one major change is that it consummates the underlying Ian-Casey complexity, which is kind of like seeing Darcy and Elizabeth get it off, and yet, I can’t say I was displeased to see it.


Finally, I went back to Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy.

I had read Sea of Poppies some years ago, and like Tai Pan, I struggled through it. I could admire the massive undertaking that it was and appreciate the authenticity of the language but I struggled with it. I found the Deeti plot a bit trying and quite simplistically written in terms of abused wife/Dalit romance. The best part was Paulette and all the botany stuff.

It was an eye-opener to me in the fact that the British empire was basically built on opium trading and how that trade linked China and India. It brought home to me once again the poverty of our history textbooks which basically glossed over this. I was also surprised to learn that this was the original ‘free trade’ doctrine, used to justify basically forcing drugs on another country.

These themes are developed in River of Smoke which centres on the period of turbulence in Canton before the Chinese emperor came down on the opium trade. This book opens with Deeti in Mauritius in again some mysticism in a temple – but I actually liked this part and wanted more of it, but this was not to be.

Instead, the novel takes us through Neel to Canton and focuses on a Parsi trader Bahram Modi, which again was a fascinating perspective of Indian traders’ role in the opium trade and their complicity with the British.

The breathtaking hypocrisy of the opium trade is reiterated through the speeches of British the traders, who insist that free trade is the will of god (even though the sale of opium is forbidden in Britain). Modi, for his part, is much more circumspect about this – his fortunes are built on the trade and yet he is more receptive to the argument that it is evil.

Through River of Smoke and the final novel in the trilogy, Flood of Fire, the interaction between Indians and Chinese becomes more prominent. This strain is present throughout the novel – starting with Ah Fat, the Indo-Chinese character, the Chinese boatman who speaks Bengali, Neel’s closeness to Compton the printer, and most prominently Bahram’s relationship with Chi-mei, the washerwoman, which becomes a symbol of his torn loyalties to China and India. The novel culminates in the battles between the Chinese and the British, in which Indians are ranged on both sides.

This novel parallel’s Tai Pan in being set during the founding of Hong Kong, but the same characters that we accept as the heroic protagonists of Tai Pan are the villains of this piece. There are plenty of interesting heroic details – from the obsession with masturbation as a sin, the sexually repressed English mehmsahib, and the army, the part I liked least even as I admit the importance of the realistic depiction of this battles.

In each novel, I liked the unconventional women the most – Paulette in the first and second novels and Shireen, Bahram’s wife, in the last novel. Ghosh redeems all his female characters, a refreshing change from the woman as vamp novels.


Having read all this, I found myself editing a column in which the author tries to argue that Hong Kong was not really colonised. I am noticing a trend of revisionism with relation to colonialism, this idea that it possibly wasn’t so bad, that there were benefits, a notion that Hong Kong, which arguably was built “out of nothing” by the British, is used to buttress and which deep down many English people I have met seem to harbor.

It is however not an academically tenable position, and frankly akin to Kanye saying slaves benefited from slavery. There is enough research on how colonialism did not benefit the colonised territories from economic, psychological and social perspectives.

Clavell’s and Ghosh’s series take somewhat different positions on this question.








Are travel photos the new food pics and other musings


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So: Are travel photos the new food pics?

By which I mean, not simply that they are ubiquitous but also that people are starting to tire of them.

The reaction to travel photos posted on Facebook, I sense, is increasingly less “wow” and more “so?” or at best “too many”.

Too many is a common failing and some selectivity would go a long way towards the mitigating of the “so?” reaction.

Increasingly I find myself giving travel photos a miss because do I really want to look you and yours on a beach (these are probably the worst) or in some other scenic locale? I guess photos of places less travelled like say Slovenia would pique some curiosity but in general, no.

Travel photos (and food photos) seem to work better on Instagram because the audience there has specially signed up for Le Pretty and also because it’s rare to get a whole dump at one go but rather they tend to get interspersed with other slivers of pretty on the feed unless you follow only travel peeps in which case your bad.

Travel photos on Facebook do seem to beg the question “wherefore?” What is the purpose of them? Well in the past my rationale has been it’s a way of sharing with family (including say cousins) who I figure are the only people who care about where you went and how your children are in combination. Maybe this does hold true. When my sister-in-law did her one month crawl through the UK with the nieces, I did follow their travel photos. In a way, instead of telling us, the SIL showed us. But even so, after a bit, I lost interest. Clearly, less is more and there is really a limit to “lookit here I’m having fun” one can take. I’m thinking a limit of five photos per trip.

What do you think? Travel photos (on FB?) yay or nay?


So you guys probably know my feelings about barbecues and more recently picnics.

But what about hotpot or Korean BBQ in a restaurant?

Last weekend, we went to a Korean BBQ place – lots of meat to grill. I found myself thinking – why is it that I, who barely makes a cup of tea in her own house, has paid for the privilege of cooking food? I really don’t see the point. The whole time we were stressing about turning the meat over so it didn’t get burnt, then swallowing something before rinse and repeat. Out of all the meat, a few pieces are perfect. The others are slightly overdone or underdone. You eat mediocre grilled veggies and feel thrilled somehow. This makes no sense. It’s BBQ all over again, except mercifully without the waving newspaper over coals and the heat and smoke.

So I’ll have to say no to this one. Though the kids and V do love it, so I guess I’m just going to have to grin and beat it sometimes.


China reading list



Some time ago, I came across this reading list on China. I got hold of several of the books and started on them in the run-up to our China trip.

1. Oracle Bones: a journey between China’s past and present (Peter Hessler)

I read this in drips and drabs until midway when I really started getting into it. What seemed to me at the start as a series of personal essays on China turned out to have fine interwoven threads running through it. I believe I came away with a wealth of knowledge about China’s past and present and how the past has shaped the present. I would highly recommend this one – it is a great way to dip one’s toes into China via an author who really knows and love the place.

2. Empress Dowager Cixi: the concubine who launched modern China

The title pretty much says it all. This is a historical look at one of the most powerful Chinese women ever. Cixi has a bad rep – my kids even have a picture book on a legend of her evil – but don’t most powerful women? Jung Chang reinstated her, and has been critiqued for whitewashing the reign of a cruel ruler. I don’t believe this is what Chang does, but she does contextualise Cixi’s rise and portray her more sympathetically. Again, apart from the fascination of the person herself, this is an introduction to China’s transition into ‘modernity’.

3. Leftover Women: the resurgence of gender inequality in China (Leta Hong Fincher)

4. Factory Girls: Voices from the heart of modern China (Leslie T. Chang)

5. Leftover in China: The women shaping the world’s next superpower (Roseanne Lake)

Read my thoughts on these three novels on my chick lit blog here.

7. The People’s Republic of Desire (Annie Wang)

Read my thoughts here

6. Red Sorghum (Mo Yan)

Mo Yan shot to global fame when he won the Nobel prize for literature. Controversially, because he was accused of collaborating with the government, a government that has cracked down on so many other writers, artists and thinkers, most famously Liu Xiaobo, also a Nobel Prize winner from China. One of those who led the attack on Mo was Salman Rushdie, which really made me roll my eyes because during the Rushdie affair, Rushdie himself caved and apologized and he wasn’t even in the same country that the threat originated from but rather being protected in London. If anything, Rushdie should know what it is to live with fear.

Anyway, it made me determined to see for myself what Mo Yan’s work is about, but I never got around to it. Reading it in China was perfect.

The novel centres on a rebellious village during the period when Japan colonised China and it is extremely powerful and violent. After the first chapter, I was consumed by the horror of what transpired and an understanding of the intense antipathy towards Japan among some quarters in China. (Pachinko does the same from the Korean perspective). In fact, I was so nauseated and angry that V had to gently remind me that there comes a point when one cannot hold the present generation responsible for the sins of the past.

Mo Yan’s style has been described as magical realism and I did see elements of that, but there was also an extremely realistic depiction of the suffering of war. After a point, the reiteration of this grim reality got a bit much for me. Nevertheless, I soldiered on and this says something about the power of the writing.

I can see how this narrative would work for China’s government, but in its portrayal of sexual desire it was groundbreaking and even in its portrayal of rebellion it did not stick to the official narrative, showing instead how different factions fought against each other.

I’d recommend anyone interested in China read one Mo Yan novel and this is the most famous one.

Read why Mo Yan receiving the Nobel Prize was condemned by some here.