An epic tale, banned in China, that tells of ordinary lives brutally destroyed by greed -- official and familial. Setting his story in an agricultural region of China, Mo Yan (Red Sorghum, 1993) takes a seemingly unlikely subject, the 1987 glut of garlic, and transforms it into fictional gold as the personal valiantly battles the pervasive political. Though recent reforms have restored private ownership of land, at a price, the farmers of Paradise County are still subordinate to Communist officialdom, which, having jettisoned much of its ideology, now uses its power just as savagely to enrich itself. Moving back and forth in time, in prose that is often lyrical, always vivid, the story is as much about love as it is about the greed that corrupts families as well as officials. Determined to punish the farmers, who'd rioted after a lengthy and futile wait to sell their garlic to the county government, the police arrest farmer Gao Yang, as well as the Fang family matriarch, Fourth Aunt. They also briefly capture another farmer, Gao Ma. As the three try to survive either in prison or on the lam, they remember the past. Gao Yang tells of being frequently beaten and harassed during his childhood and early manhood for being born into a family of the then-reviled landowning class; Fourth Aunt recalls her greedy sons' cruelty to her only daughter, Jinju, and how her husband was callously run over by an official, who refused to pay any damages; and Gao Ma relives the terrible beatings Jinju received after she'd run away with him, because her brothers wanted her to marry a man with money. With a litany of horrors so long and so unsparing -- if unsurprising -- consolations are rare. An affecting vindication of the human spirit under extreme duress -- from a writer of tremendous power and sympathy.