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The Republic of Wine
Cover of The Republic of Wine
The Republic of Wine
A Novel
by Mo Yan
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In this hypnotic epic novel, Mo Yan, the most critically acclaimed Chinese writer of this generation, takes us on a journey to a conjured province of contemporary China known as the Republic of Wine—a corrupt and hallucinatory world filled with superstitions, gargantuan appetites, and surrealistic events. When rumors reach the authorities that strange and excessive gourmandise is being practiced in the city of Liquorland (so named for the staggering amount of alcohol produced and consumed there), veteran special investigator Ding Gou'er is dispatched from the capital to discover the truth. His mission begins at the Mount Lou Coal Mine, where he encounters the prime suspect—Deputy Head Diamond Jin, legendary for his capacity to hold his liquor. During the ensuing drinking duel at a banquet served in Ding's honor, the investigator loses all sense of reality, and can no longer tell whether the roast suckling served is of the animal or human variety. When he finally wakes up from his stupor, he has still found no answers to his rapidly mounting questions. Worse yet, he soon finds that his trusty gun is missing.

Interspersed throughout the narrative—and Ding's faltering investigation—are letters sent to Mo Yan by one Li Yidou, a doctoral candidate in Liquor Studies and an aspiring writer. Each letter contains a story that Li would like the renowned author's help in getting published. However, Li's tales, each more fantastic and malevolent than the last, soon begin alarmingly to resemble the story of Ding's continuing travails in Liquorland. Peopled by extraordinary characters—a dwarf, a scaly demon, a troupe of plump, delectable boys raised in captivity, a cookery teacher who primes her students with monstrous recipes—Mo Yan's revolutionary tour de force reaffirms his reputation as a writer of world standing. Wild, bawdy, politically explosive, and subversive, The Republic of Wine is both mesmerizing and exhilarating, proving that no repressive regime can stifle true creative imagination.

In this hypnotic epic novel, Mo Yan, the most critically acclaimed Chinese writer of this generation, takes us on a journey to a conjured province of contemporary China known as the Republic of Wine—a corrupt and hallucinatory world filled with superstitions, gargantuan appetites, and surrealistic events. When rumors reach the authorities that strange and excessive gourmandise is being practiced in the city of Liquorland (so named for the staggering amount of alcohol produced and consumed there), veteran special investigator Ding Gou'er is dispatched from the capital to discover the truth. His mission begins at the Mount Lou Coal Mine, where he encounters the prime suspect—Deputy Head Diamond Jin, legendary for his capacity to hold his liquor. During the ensuing drinking duel at a banquet served in Ding's honor, the investigator loses all sense of reality, and can no longer tell whether the roast suckling served is of the animal or human variety. When he finally wakes up from his stupor, he has still found no answers to his rapidly mounting questions. Worse yet, he soon finds that his trusty gun is missing.

Interspersed throughout the narrative—and Ding's faltering investigation—are letters sent to Mo Yan by one Li Yidou, a doctoral candidate in Liquor Studies and an aspiring writer. Each letter contains a story that Li would like the renowned author's help in getting published. However, Li's tales, each more fantastic and malevolent than the last, soon begin alarmingly to resemble the story of Ding's continuing travails in Liquorland. Peopled by extraordinary characters—a dwarf, a scaly demon, a troupe of plump, delectable boys raised in captivity, a cookery teacher who primes her students with monstrous recipes—Mo Yan's revolutionary tour de force reaffirms his reputation as a writer of world standing. Wild, bawdy, politically explosive, and subversive, The Republic of Wine is both mesmerizing and exhilarating, proving that no repressive regime can stifle true creative imagination.

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  • Publisher's Weekly

    April 3, 2000
    Decadence and debauchery in post-Mao China find a scathing satirist in the author of the lauded Red Sorghum, as he waxes metafictional in this savage, hallucinatory farce. The tale is set in an imaginary Chinese province called Liquorland, where custom dictates the consumption of mind-boggling quantities of sundry fine liquors. Other appetites are indulged, outrageously, and alarming reports of widespread infanticidal cannibalism prompt party authorities to dispatch special investigator Ding Gou'er to intervene. The rash Ding, however, quickly becomes debauched himself, drinking to the point of mental breakdown, feasting at a gluttonous banquet whose menu may include braised baby and entangling himself in a perverse, violent sexual relationship with the female driver of the truck that chauffeurs him to town. Ding's lover/driver is also the wife of Liquorland's vice-minister of propaganda, Diamond Jin, a drinker of legendary capacity--and Ding's prime suspect. Between updates on Ding's progress, the author inserts letters exchanged between Li Yidou, an aspiring writer and Ph.D. candidate in liquor studies at Liquorland's brewer's college, and the famous author Mo Yan. Li Yidou sends his conscripted mentor short stories telling of a rare liquor made by apes, the young writer's inappropriate attraction to his elderly mother-in-law, the culinary preparation of donkey genitals and the cultivation and butchering of infant boys. Mo Yan responds to his prot g with criticism and reports of his own writing efforts. Ultimately, Yo Man (the character) visits Liquorland and shares some of the experiences of the dissolute inspector Ding. Mo Yan (the author) fashions a complex, self-conscious narrative structure full of echoes and reflections. The novel grows progressively more febrile in tone, with pervasive, striking imagery and wildly imaginative digressions that cumulatively reveal the tremendous scope of his vision.

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