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The most revered, feared, and controversial Chinese novelist here offers a tour de force in which the real, the absurd, the comical, and the tragic are blended into a fascinating read.The hero-or antihero-of Mo Yan's new novel is Ximen Nao, a landowner known for his generosity and kindness and benevolence to his peasants, but who in Mao's Land Reform Movement of 1948 was not only stripped of his land and worldly possessions but cruelly executed, despite his protestations of innocence. The novel opens in Hell, where Lord Yama, king of the underworld, has Ximen Nao tortured endlessly, trying to make him admit his guilt, to no avail. Finally, in disgust, Lord Yama allows Ximen Nao to return to earth, to his own farm, where he is reborn not, alas, as a human but first as a donkey, then a horse, a pig, a monkey, and finally the big-headed boy Lan Qiansui. Through the unique perspectives of the various animals, Ximen Nao narrates fifty years of peasant history in China, ending on the eve of the new millennium. An absolutely riveting tale that reveals the author's love of the land, which is beset by so many ills, political, traditional, and modern.

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