From Ma Jian, the highly acclaimed Chinese dissident, comes a satirical novel about the absurdities of life in a post-Tiananmen China.
Two men meet for dinner each week. Over the course of one of these drunken evenings, the writer recounts the stories he would write, had he the courage: a young man buys an old kiln and opens a private crematorium, delighting in his ability to harass the corpses of police officers and Party secretaries, while swooning to banned Western music; a heartbroken actress performs a public suicide by stepping into the jaws of a wild tiger, watched nonchalantly by her ex-lover. Extraordinary characters inspire him, their lives pulled and pummeled by fate and politics, as if they are balls of dough in the hands of an all-powerful noodle maker.
Ma Jian's satirical masterpiece allows us a humorous, yet profound, glimpse of those struggling to survive under a system that dictates their every move.
Having "boarded the express train of the Open Door Policy," the characters in Ma's (Red Dust) satisfying, satirical novel now find themselves disembarking in a land caught between the "bourgeois liberalism" of the West and the Communist strictures of the East. Here a novelist wears nail polish ("Blood-stained hands!") as Party leaders appoint her the town's first "professional writer," while an entrepreneurial son surreally roasts his willing mother in his busy homemade crematorium. The interlocked stories that make up this work spill out over a Sunday night dinner between two argumentative old friends: Sheng, a blocked writer just one propagandist novel away from an entry in The Great Dictionary of Chinese Writers, and Vlazerim, a wealthy professional blood donor. Sheng longs to write a novel based on the lives of his intimates, but the consequences of defying the Party, including demotion in professional rank and guaranteed literary obscurity, paralyze him. Instead he spends his days vociferously critiquing his neighbors' cooking as he daydreams. In these imaginings, he transforms the lives of those around him into high art, in much the same way a noodle maker turns plain ingredients into nourishing sustenance. Ma's spare meal of a novel provides an excellent counterpoint to the sumptuous lyrical banquet Soul Mountain by Nobel Prize winner and fellow expatriate Gao Xingjian.