Holding Up Half the Sky

Nobody can accuse Mo Yan of thinking small. In dozens of stories and novels, he has tackled China's tumultuous past century with a mix of magical realism and sharp-eyed satire that has made him one of the most famous, oft-banned and widely pirated of all Chinese writers. His Red Sorghum was turned into a prizewinning 1987 movie by director Zhang Yimou and picked by Chinese readers in a 1996 poll as their favorite novel. Mo Yan's Northeast Gaomi County, a fictional realm based on his hardscrabble hometown in the eastern province of Shandong, is as vivid a spot on the literary...