Ambivalent amphibian


The narrator in Chinese Nobel laureate Mo Yan's most recent novel to be translated into English is named “Tadpole,” and he wishes to write a play about his aunt, Gugu. In Frog (Viking Adult, $27.95), Gugu, who is 70 when the story begins, survives the Japanese occupation, trains as a midwife, becomes a member of the Communist Party, suffers through the great famine, is jilted by a fiancé who defects—and endangers her position in so doing. She later embraces the “one-child” policy, and is transformed from the much-honored midwife to the hated government abortion provider. As Yan portrays the suffering of the people, there is also a—perhaps too subtle for some—criticism of the state that is the source of so much of the suffering. More than anything, Frog complicates things for Mo Yan; he's neither completely a “party hack,” nor is he a harsh critic of the state.