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Pow!

Chinese children who lie a lot are called "powboys," but the 20-year-old narrator of Mo Yan's Pow! assures you he's telling the truth. He's come to the crumbling temple of the Horse Spirit to tell the Wise Monk there what happened when he was 10 years old in Slaughterhouse Village, where the farmers became rich by infusing meat with water to increase the weight.

Blessed with a powerful digestive system, a perpetual hunger for meat and the ability to hear meat speaking, the boy revolutionizes the village's meatpacking industry and becomes immortalized in a statue that arrives 10 years later at the temple where he is seeking refuge, at the height of the Carnivore Festival, for inclusion in the opera From Meat Boy to Meat God.

Packing his novel with dozens of colorful characters, from gangsters to nuns, from butchers to movie stars, the endearing Mo Yan is a master of goofy comedy, a Nobel Prize winner who can't resist pratfalls and slapstick, with stampeding ostriches and windblown toupees. Never going where you expect, his plot constantly loops into backstories and teases with flash-forwards, building to a climax with shocker revelations and a grand guignol murder, leaping and bounding to its berserk ending in an over-the-top, cinematic 41-mortar salvo, as the 12-year-old hero demolishes the settings one by one in which the novel has unfolded, in pursuit of the corrupt but kindly village head who may or may not be the mastermind behind this delightful epic's tragic plot. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle