Frog by Mo Yan, translated by Howard Goldblatt [in Library Journal]
Wan Xin, aka Gugu, is a revered obstetrician who has delivered generations of Gaomi Township citizens over the last half century. Yet for every live birth, she’s aborted at least as many pregnancies, proving her patriotism by fervently upholding China’s one-child policy; even relatives can’t escape Gugu’s unwavering rampage. Now that she is almost 70, her nephew Tadpole attempts to comprehend her epic career by turning her celebrated, tortured life into theater.
Melding tragedy (avoidable deaths, the destruction of families) with absurd outcomes (a fortune-teller who breeds bullfrogs, a panhandling Don Quixote, a television magistrate with a King Solomon complex), Mo again reveals the consequences of blind obedience. His frog analogies suggest that humanity is little more than a population of indistinguishable, spermlike tadpoles with less-than-favorable survival rates. The characters here are not even worthy of proper names, merely called by random body parts, e.g., “Eyes Zhao, Colon Wu, Shoulder Sun”; none is wholly human.
Verdict: As Mo’s first book in English translation since his 2012 Nobel win (it was originally published in 2009 in China), this should move briskly off the shelves. Readers familiar with the author’s work will appreciate his sly references to past titles, including “red sorghum” and Gong Li, while newbies will be inspired to explore more of what they’ve been missing.
Published: 2009, 2015 (United States)