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China's Mo Yan wins Nobel Prize in literature

October 11, 2012|By David L. Ulin | Los Angeles Times Book Critic

Mo Yan, the Chinese writer best known for his 1987 novel "Red Sorghum," has won the 2012 Nobel Prize in literature.

In presenting the award, the Nobel committee cited Mo's "hallucinatory realism," which blends aspects of "folk tales, history and the contemporary."

Mo, 57, is an interesting choice for the Nobel. Although he has been called "one of the most famous, oft-banned and widely pirated of all Chinese writers," he is also regarded in some quarters as "too close to the establishment" to merit an award that has often come with a political subtext. In a recent article in the China Daily, the writer Yefu was unfiltered in his criticism: "The Nobel will not go to a writer who sings the praise of authoritarianism. That is an essential principle."

Mo addressed some of these concerns in a recent interview with the British literary journal Granta. Asked if his use of magical realism was a strategy, at least in part, for avoiding censorship, he answered, "Yes, indeed. Many approaches to literature have political bearings, for example in our real life there might be some sharp or sensitive issues that they do not wish to touch upon. At such a juncture a writer can inject their own imagination to isolate them from the real world or maybe they can exaggerate the situation -- making sure it is bold, vivid and has the signature of our real world. So, actually I believe these limitations or censorship is great for literature creation."

Mo is only the second Chinese writer to receive the Nobel Prize in literature; the novelist Gao Xingjian won in 2000. Other recent recipients include Turkey's Orhan Pamuk, Britain's Doris Lessing,  France's Jean-Marie Gustave le Clezio, Germany's Herta Muller and Peru's Mario Vargas LLosa; in 2011, the Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer won the prize.

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