Beginners' guide to Mo Yan

Mo Yan Six of Mo Yan's works have been translated into English

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Chinese author Mo Yan has been awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize for literature.

Michel Hockx, Professor of Chinese at the School of Oriental and African Studies, part of the University of London, hosted a lecture by the author during the recent London Book Fair.

Here, he offers a brief guide to the prolific 57-year-old novelist.

Who is Mo Yan?

Mo Yan is a popular novelist living in China who has been producing a steady output of fiction since the 1980s. He is also one of the most translated Chinese novelists into English, certainly among living authors.

What genre do his books fall into?

He writes a mixture of realism and magical realism. Earlier works were more historical, but as his career has developed, the stories have become more elaborate, more complicated and more unusual.

What does he write about?

He writes about rural communities in China that seem to be very familiar, very ordinary - the sort of region where he grew up - but then all kinds of magical and unusual things start to happen.

Who reads his books?

He is a wonderful storyteller, and is someone who could appeal to anyone. The novels - especially the early ones - are quite easy to read. They are good, gripping stories.

When he spoke at SOAS during the London Book Fair what I noticed was that a lot of the audience were not Chinese experts, they had just read his novels in translation and really liked them. They just wanted to see him and meet him, he has a strong international following.

What is his best-known book?

The earliest novel by him that was translated into English was Red Sorghum, which was also turned into a very famous movie by Zhang Yimou. It's actually a very complicated tale. It's a historical novel written from the perspective of a child growing up during up the second world war.

I was in China when that film came out and I remember audiences going absolutely crazy for it.

Is he political?

Mo Yan was asked whether he was political when he was here at the London Book Fair. His response was: 'Of course I care about politics, and I write about things that I see that I think are wrong - but I also think that the writer should not just be a political activist, a writer should be a writer, first and foremost'.

He has had his spats with the authorities, but nothing serious.

Is he a good pick to win the Nobel Prize for literature?

It's a good choice. He has been writing for decades. He has a very impressive oeuvre, a large readership and he addresses the human condition in a way in which the Nobel Committee likes to see.

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