There is a lot of mention of sorghum in this book. Sorghum is a grain, and a type of wine can be made of it. From early on in the novel, it weaves into the narrative and enfolds the main characters together. After a while, you wonder how the narrative would hold if it weren’t for the sorghum, as a living embodiment of China’s Gaomi Township. If it weren’t for the sorghum, it’s hard to imagine what is keeping the story together, because it leaps across styles just as it leaps across a generation, encompassing the narrator’s grandparents and parents. It’s a country tale, then a love story, then a bandit tale, then a war epic, then a far-east western, then a martial arts story, then a mafia story, then a folk tale, back to love, then a fairy tale, and still it goes on with only the sorghum to bear witness as the narrator’s grandfather woos a small-footed woman promised to the wealthy and leprous son of a distillery owner. The distillery is for making Sorghum wine, and the narrator’s grandparents make a ‘special’ brew that draws instant fame in the surrounding area.
War looms large in the novel, the Gaomi armies fighting the Japanese almost as hard as they fight themselves. It lends the characters a heroism that draws their flaws into stark contrast and makes them relatable even as it seems they would be lost without the excesses that lead to their demise. An exciting, multi-faced and constantly transforming read.