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IN BRIEF

Fiction

September 12, 1993|KAREN STABINER

RED SORGHUM by Mo Yan, translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt (Viking: $23.50; 359 pp.). You saw the movie, now read the book. Mo Yan, a literary hero in China and a member of the cultural affairs department of the People's Liberation Army, tells, in a style both clever and deeply emotional, the story of China in the 1930s, when the Chinese faced both warfare among themselves and against Japanese invaders. At the end of the cultural revolution the narrator recalls the stories of his father and grandparents; family members battle each other, make allegiances and betray them, reflecting the turbulent times in which they live. The tales of war are grotesque in their detail, but the narrator's family survives in his memory, and in his determination to recapture some of the grace of his childhood, as represented by the fields of red sorghum. The author's style is vibrant, alternating between lyrical passages and an oddly conversational tone. This historical tale has a remarkable sense of immediacy and an impressive scope.

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