Almost as disturbing as the government's treatment of the people is the way the people treat each other. It's not only the regime that is unfair and ruthless, the fellow prisoners are as cruel. A life is worth nothing. Perhaps, if told all your life that it's the truth, one begins to behave that way. Furthermore, people are thinking differently than those with money and conveniences. In the middle of all the devastation, aunt Fang thinks about her life, and how wonderful it has been.
The story shifts between the main characters Gao Yang and Gao Ma, both of which were carefully crafted. Although, there's something slightly flat about the character of the oldest Fang brother, his personality doesn't feel consistent.
The stench of garlic is everywhere and symbolizes the boiling unhappiness that eventually turns to hatred. There are few books with so much filth, urine, excrement and vomit, serving as a big contrast to the fractions of love and kindness. The expressive prose is rare and drags you into the story. You can feel everything with your own senses. You can smell the rotting garlic, sometimes too much. You can feel the crawling lice from the mattress, always too much. But you can also feel the beautiful things, the determinism of the farmers having enough, the beautiful relationship between the young couple, the green, resplendent, living and breathing crop fields, illuminated by the moon. Few authors has the ability to alternate their writing in this way.
What the little foal represent is for the reader to interpret. That questions Mo Yan didn't answer when visiting Sweden to receive his earned Nobel Prize. Hope, perhaps. Or the tiny bit of freedom left, the very souls of the characters.