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  1. "Red Sorghum" is one of the more challenging novels I've ever read. This was 2012 Nobel Laureate Mo Yan's first novel, and remains his most famous - it was made into a film, also called "Red Sorghum," in 1987. As with so many other great works of literature, I'm saying to myself right now, 'There's no way this could be made into a film without losing much of its "guts"' - there's just too much that goes on inside of peoples' heads for it to be conveyed on the big screen. Oh, the story can be told, but not in anything remotely resembling the strange and mysterious narrative penned by Yan. It doesn't even matter if I tell you what the book is about: "Red Sorghum" is narrated by a descendant of a family of sorghum winemakers, and he jumps back-and-forth through time (the duration of the story is about fifty years, from the early 1920s until the 1970s, passing through the Great Leap Forward (perhaps the deadliest event in human history), and ending with the Cultural Revolution), telling the strange and fascinating history of his family, and the hard times and misery they endure, with the red sorghum itself being the only thing (other than the narrator) which links together the tale. Also, don't assume you'll pick up any snippets of real-life history by reading this; you won't. So, even though I just told you what the novel is about, it doesn't make one iota of difference - it's the type of book you *must* read to understand, and it is extremely difficult to get through. It isn't the language that's difficult; it's keeping up with the numerous characters, and adapting to sudden shifts in time (without being told you've shifted in time). I've read tougher books in my life, but probably less than a dozen (and I've read some pretty darned tough books). I highly recommend "Red Sorghum," but it sure isn't for everybody - you have to *want* this novel, and steel yourself for some very complicated and confusing literature. I got to the point where, for the final two-thirds of the book, I was taking notes on the pages - titling every single page with the gist of what happened on it; otherwise, it would have been impossible for me to refer back and find something I needed to find. Is this Nobel-worthy literature? Yes. I understand the Nobel is a lifetime-achievement award, but this is a worthy component of Yan's oeuvre that contributes fully to him winning the Nobel. Writing long-form literature this complex is a skill that I could never possess, so it's difficult for me to even comprehend how someone could write something such as this - it must have taken him forever-and-a-day, and I suspect the reason this was Yan's first novel (at age 31) was that he had spent the past decade thinking about it. My guess is that it's very unlikely that any of our members have read this, but if anyone is out there (even just lurking) who has, I would love to discuss aspects of this novel with you - I read it without any help, and as I post this, I have still yet to read any reviews or critiques of "Red Sorghum." I look forward to doing so, so that I can figure out exactly what in the hell I've spent the past six months reading. Also, don't do what I did (pick the book up only occasionally) - this is a novel that needs to be read continuously; not sporadically. I am *so glad* I decided to take notes (I even bought a second book several months ago, so I could have a new one once I was finished defacing the one I read).
  2. This is one of the few novels it took me over an entire year to read, and one of the few that I can say made me a better person for having done so. "The Bridge on the Drina"� is a rough-going, 300+ page book that spans almost 350 years, and therefore can't be threaded together by "traditional"� methods - the "rock,"� quite literally, that bonds this tale is the bridge itself, the Mehmed PaÅ¡a Sokolović Bridge (a UNESCO World Heritage site - there are 981 on Earth), spanning the Drina River, the Drina running northwardly through Bosnia and Herzegovina, connecting with the Rzav, and then flowing into the "Beautiful Blue"� Danube - the second longest river in Europe after the Volga. But these geographical facts are pedagogical, as nearly the entire story takes place right in the town that houses the bridge, ViÅ¡egrad - a town that will feel like your second home when you're finished the book. At times brutal (there is one chapter in particular that may upset you for the rest of your life), at times beautiful (the lovely Fatah hurling herself from the bridge, rather than facing forced marriage to a man she didn't love), this book is perhaps the definitive way to "get to know"� the cultural history of the Balkans - the point at which World War One officially started via the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand, and ended up killing over 9 million people - while technically considered fiction, the novel is very much based on fact. Why did I select such a difficult project to tackle? Because I'm an idiot, that's why. Because I knew relatively little about Balkan history, because Andrić won the Nobel Prize for Literature in the year I was born, and because this book is considered the singular reason he won: it's his magnum opus. Despite the rather superficial reason I chose it, I am a better person - a better human being - for having read this book. Jews, Christians, and Muslims living together for centuries in relative harmony - how appealing that was for me. They are building a town-within-a-town - Andrićgrad - near the foot of the bridge, slated to be completed next year - and, they are talking about making the book into a movie. If they finish the town, and perhaps even if they don't, I want to go there, to pay my homage, and to look at this undoubtedly tiny bridge which served such an incredibly large part of the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I would be interested in discussing even the tiniest, seemingly most unimportant aspect of this - or any - book, with anyone who is interested (and I can say the same about any book, film, song, or whatever other medium I might have experienced) - I'm happiest going deep into the depths, and hearing new theories and possibilities about *why* someone might have done what they did. If you want superficial conversation, you won't find it here - I want content, substance, and depth to be our driving forces. Hint: I'm currently reading William Shakespeare's "Troilus and Cressida," Alice Munro's "Runaway,"� and will soon be starting Oscar Wilde's "The Important of Being Ernest."� Bring it, my friends! I want your best in this forum! I want to be challenged, dammit! And if it's a book, poem, essay, play - anything - that you're reading and wild about, post about it. I'll read it, and I'll discuss it with you. Just please don't make it that odious symbol of every middle aged woman in America trapped in a lonely marriage, "Fifty Shades of Gray"� which I've now had presented to me, in various forms, about ten times, as an apotheosis of cutting-edge literature. Please. Meet a friend for a drink, see a counselor, get divorced, do *anything* but *please* don't post here about it expecting serious discussion (*). If you want to post about Gilbert Gottfried's readings of it, that's fine. If you're one of "them,"� please, start reading heavy, and I mean *really* heavy. Coetzee's "Disgrace,"� Saramago's "The Cave,"� Pamuk's "My Name Is Red," or hell, Bryson's "A Walk In The Woods"� or Steinbeck's "Travels with Charley"� if you want to declench with some NPR-level laughs or escapism, respectively. I also don't mind listening to, and analyzing a 4-minute long pop song, or even a two-hour movie, or a one-hour art exhibit, but literature is different: I simply can't invest a month into a NY Times Bestseller which is going to be just awful and a complete waste of my time - my life is worth more than this. I've done it several times before, mainly when the books were gifts from friends (I read them out of respect for my friends), but I don't want to do it anymore. Oh, God it's a waste of life. (*) I'm kidding. And I guarantee *hundreds* of our readers have read it, and probably liked it. Post away - I don't want this forum to be snobby.
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