I haven’t paid much attention since it was announced that Chinese writer Mo Yan was to receive the Nobel for literature this year. Bookman found we had one of his books on our shelf, Life and Death are Wearing Me Out. He brought it upstairs and it has been sitting sideways on our poetry bookshelf for several weeks now. Over the weekend Bookman decided he would start reading it and put it on his nightstand. I don’t know if he has started it yet or not. Anyway, that’s been about the extent of thinking of Mo Yan.
But then the other day I read a review article in The New York Review of books, Does This Writer Deserve the Prize? Though the article begins with a list of Mo Yan’s books, it doesn’t spend much time actually talking about them. Most of the article is devoted to biography and whether a writer who is supported by and supports the Chinese government is worthy of a Nobel. It doesn’t come to any clear conclusion, instead, like Mo Yan who has had to compromise in order to practice his craft, the article compromises as well by trying to have it both ways: Mo Yan is part of the “system” but maybe not as much as appears.
The NYRB article was written several weeks before Mo Yan received his award which happened on Monday. Now the lit sites are buzzing. Apparently Salman Rushdie called Mo Yan a patsy for refusing to sign a petition calling for the release of of Liu Xiaobo, Nobel winner from a few years ago, a countryman, and a writer the Chinese government does not like.
Mo Yan is also being criticized for some things he said in his acceptance speech. The most controversial was his insistence that censorship could be a good thing like airport security checks.
I was starting to feel a bit sorry for the man. Did he really deserve so much anger from the literary community? I mean, shouldn’t we be looking at his writing rather than criticizing his politics? Just because a writer comes from a repressive country, are they required to speak out against their government? I thought the prize for literature was given because of the literature, not because of who the person is and what he believes.
Admittedly I was put off when I learned that he wore a shirt printed with a pattern made from his own name. So maybe he is a Communist Party member and an ass, does that disqualify him from the prize? There may not have been many Communist Party members who won a Nobel in the past, but I am sure there must have been some writers who were asses.
I don’t know what I think about Mo Yan the person and I don’t know that it really matters. I would like to read Life and Death are Wearing Me Out when Bookman is done with it. Then I’ll have an opinion of Mo Yan the writer and whether he deserved the Nobel Prize.