The novel that I read was “Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out” by Mo Yan. The entire premise of the story revolves around a landlord called Ximen Nao who is punished by the king of the underworld, Lord Yama, to be sent back into the realm of humans but not as a man, but instead as an animal beginning as a donkey, then an ox, a pig, a dog, a monkey and finally a large headed boy. However, there is a time when someone’s life (or animal in this case) has to end; when Ximen Nao dies he sheds his old animal body and is reincarnated into a different animal with the exception of being born as a large headed boy at the end of his reincarnation cycle. Along side the narrator, Lan Qiansui, there is a second narrator called Lan Jiefang who is the son of Lan Lian, the last independent farmer in China and was Ximen Nao’s farmhand before he died. Overall the book was hilarious, heartbreaking, and serious in some scenes but the only bad thing was the amount of “interesting” language in this book, however that did not stop me from reading this novel. On page 248 there is a scene that made me crack up because Mo Yan’s family make fun of his talents and annoyance, “Mom,” his sister often asked their mother, “is he really your son? Couldn’t Father have found him abandoned in a mulberry grove when he was out collecting dung?”
Since the novel has 2 protagonists I will mostly describe Ximen Nao because after his death as each animal a new part begins that describes his new life in the reincarnation cycle. The author characterizes Ximen Nao as an arrogant animal in some parts or a kind obedient (mostly obedient) animal that listens to his master unless something bad happens to Ximen Nao or his previous human family. An example is “If that bothers you, then let’s see what my donkey has to say.” He let go of my reins and said, “Sic him, Blackie!” (p.72) This shows Ximen Nao as Ximen Donkey following Lan Lian’s orders to attack someone else meanwhile he doesn’t hesitate to do so. Another example of his obedience is on page 407 when he is a dog, “Little Four, listen carefully…At six thirty get Kaifang up. At seven thirty, after you’ve had breakfast, start out for school.” This shows that no matter what reincarnation Ximen Nao is in, he is still obedient to his master and will follow their directions because he still retains his human emotions and memories in his animal form.
The novel has no central conflict as it is set in Mao Zedong’s communist China, but I would say that the conflict is that Ximen Nao is proving his innocence but Lord Yama is not allowing him to return as a man due to the hatred feelings in his heart, but instead returning him as part of the animal kingdom. This gives Ximen Nao a reason to rid his heart of hatred feelings and see the results and aftereffects of his death. An example would be on page 510, “My hatred is gone, Great Lord!” “No, I can see in your eyes that traces of it remain so I will send you back once more as a member of the animal kingdom. This time, however, you will be reborn into a higher species, one closer to man, a monkey, if you must know, and only for a short time – two years.” The reason behind all this reincarnation cycle is to teach Ximen Nao a lesson, and if he were to complete his task then he would be able to reborn into the realm of man. Eventually Ximen Nao dies as the monkey and eventually is reborn into the realm of man, however, I will not spoil who is he really is and leave that part up to the reader.