You may think you're watching Twin Peaks on Chinese television halfway through this rumbustious melodramatic satire by the internationally acclaimed author (1993’s Red Sorghum, the source of a prize-winning film; The Garlic Ballads, 1995).
The story opens in straightforward fashion, as a middle-aged government inspector, Ding Gou'er, is sent to a remote northeastern province to investigate allegations of cannibalism and other misbehavior in a booze-ridden Shangri-La known as `Liquorland.` Ding's increasingly bizarre misadventures, which involve a sybaritic mining mogul (a wonderfully drawn Falstaffian villain) nicknamed `Diamond Jin` and a ferociously amorous `lady trucker,` are wittily juxtaposed against author Mo Yan's surreal ongoing correspondence with Li Yidou (a native Liquorlander), an importunate wannabe writer who sends the baffled novelist copies of his own short stories: haywire narratives which ingenuously dramatize Li's own political opinions, sexual fantasies, and paranoid delusions. The book’s texture is further roughed up (and indeed enhanced) by deftly placed infusions of indigenous folklore, particularly supernaturalism. Mo Yan and Li Yidou actually meet in the smashing metafictional conclusion, in which the Chinese fondness for unconventional alcoholic beverages (one of Mo Yan's favorite targets) agreeably obliterates its characters' easily sidetracked searches for truth (`Damn some will say I'm obviously imitating the style of Ulysses in this section Who cares I'm drunk`). A treasure trove of polymorphous perversity and go-for-broke storytelling—and the theme of cannibalism as a metaphor for the exploitation of this vast country's helpless working poor is explored with Swiftian vigor and contempt.
Mo Yan has heretofore looked like China's Maxim Gorky; it now seems he may also be his country's Evelyn Waugh or Groucho Marx.