Mo Yan


As its title suggests, breasts have a considerable role to play in Mo Yan’s saga of twentieth-century China. Not all are plain large: some are “high”, “arching”, “pert”, “delicate, lovely, perky”, and on occasion improbably mobile, “with slightly upturned nipples as nimble as the mouth of a hedgehog”. One pair is described as a couple of “happy white doves”, others are “like opium flowers or valleys of butterflies”; yet another resembles “a little red-eyed rabbit”. But in whatever unpredictable form they manifest themselves, they are everywhere, prompting, with respect to Mo Yan, the question that John Lewis, the narrator of Kingsley Amis’s novel That Uncertain Feeling, asks himself while contemplating a game of women’s tennis: “Why did I like women’s breasts so much? I was clear on why I liked them, thanks, but why did I like them so much?”.

more from Julia Lovell and other TLS writers on Mo Yan here.