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An Animated Glimpse into Mo Yan’s New Novel

Guest blogger Jonathan Stalling, associate professor of English at the University of Oklahoma and editor of Chinese Literature Today, offers us a glimpse into the making of a new book trailer for Mo Yan’s novel Sandalwood Death. You’ll hear more from Stalling at this Friday’s lunchtime plenary session. Joining him will be Howard Goldblatt, a writer and the principle translator of Mo Yan’s work, and Sylvia Li-chun Lin, a writer and a co-translator (with Goldblatt) of the award-winning novels Notes of a Desolate Man (Chu T’ian-wen) and Three Sisters (Bi Feiyu).

Book trailers appear to be a growing trend in commercial book sales and the idea seems to be a good one: give likely readers a glimpse into the plot, style, or theme of a new book to help connect people to the books they will love. The goal of this trailer was to find a visual medium to translate the signature style of Mo Yan in such a way that viewers can quickly and powerfully get a sense of the beating heart of his masterpiece, Sandalwood Death. The medium of animation allowed us to portray the novel’s fast-paced, violent, and sensuous nature in a variation on the genre of motion comics (or visual novels) that was first imagined by pioneering science fiction author Phillip K. Dick in the 1960s and is now a growing genre within comic book arts. We hope viewers will be tempted enough by this glimpse of the novel’s style, tone, texture, and scope to seek out and enjoy Howard Goldblatt’s masterful translation of Mo Yan’s novel.

Over nearly a two year period, our team of animators and artists, all of whom have won numerous national awards in China, worked from their home base at Yunnan University’s School of Art and Design under the direction of its Dean Li Sen. The score for the trailer is by Henry Wan Man Lai, a well-known and respected Hong Kong–based film composer, who generously allowed us to use this powerful track. He has donated his proceeds from the trailer to the Hong Kong Children’s Cancer Foundation. For more on the making of the trailer see a short article on the World Literature Today Blog.