Ma's five evocative stories concern a young Chinese journalist's travels to the wild plateaus of occupied Tibet in the late 1980s. In the first story, "The Woman and the Blue Sky," the spiritually curious journalist, whose marriage has collapsed, hopes to witness a sky burial, in which a corpse is hacked up and fed to vultures; he meets a Sichuan soldier who invites him to the imminent burial of a 17-year-old pregnant woman, the soldier's lover as well as the wife of two local brothers. Incest and sexual violence figure in some of the stories, such as "The Eight-Fanged Roach," in which the journalist, seeking shelter in a tent at the edge of the Changtang Plateau, hears the awful confession of a nomad obsessed with the daughter he has sired by his mother and drunkenly raped. "The Final Initiation" is the account of a chosen Living Buddha, a 15-year-old girl whose yogic skills desert her after the monastery's sanctioned ritual rape and who dies during her last ceremony-immersion for three days in an icy river. Ma (The Noodle Maker) has a keen sense for both the feral and the deeply spiritual in his characters. The book was published in China in 1997; all of Ma's subsequent work has been banned there. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Written nearly 20 years ago, this latest offering from Ma Jian (Red Dust; Noodle Maker) to be translated into English consists of five loosely connected stories related by an unnamed Chinese narrator who is traveling in Tibet. The opening piece, "Woman and the Blue Sky," describes the narrator's search to photograph a traditional Tibetan sky burial, in which the body of the deceased is offered up to vultures. In a stroke of luck, he encounters a soldier who invites him to witness the ceremonial burial of his lover, Myima. Tragically, Myima was sold off at the age of six, sexually abused by her adoptive father, married to a pair of brothers, and died as a result of hemorrhaging during childbirth. The stories of tragedy and abuse continue in "Eight-Fanged Roach," where an old man tells of his incestuous relationship with his mother, resulting in the birth of his daughter, Metok. Though he searches for absolution for his sins, he sleeps with his daughter just prior to her running off with a local trader, and she descends into madness. In an afterword, the author notes that his work is controversial among both Tibetans and Chinese. Given their dark and explicitly disturbing nature, these stories will not be appreciated by all readers. But those who have read Xinran's Sky Burial will recognize the irony of hardship placed upon the human spirit set against the striking beauty offered by the Tibetan landscape. Academic libraries, larger public libraries, and those with collections of Asian fiction may want to add this title.-Shirley N. Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
A thinly fictionalized account of the Chinese dissident's travels in Tibet, first published in the journal People's Literature in 1987. In 1985, memoirist and novelist Ma Jian (The Noodle Maker, 2005) headed for Tibet, a land and culture he had long romanticized. He found a country in ruins, "a land whose spiritual heart had been ripped out" after years of Chinese domination. Upon his return to Beijing, Ma Jian wrote the five stories collected here, and sent them off for publication without considering the repercussions. In short order, the print run of the journal was confiscated, the stories were banned and Ma Jian was forced into exile. The stories (and the author's castigations) aren't easy to read: In "The Eight-Fanged Roach," for instance, the narrator encounters a nomad on a pilgrimage to wash away his sins. (The old man committed incest with not only his mother, but also his daughter, who lost her mind as a result.) In another story, 15-year-old Sangsang Tashi, designated the reincarnation of a Living Buddha, undergoes her final initiation-standing for three days in a frozen river. The young girl is doomed, however, when the violence of a preceding ceremony shatters her concentration, and the yogic skills that had taken her years to acquire are lost in an instant. Unable to increase her body temperature, Sangsang succumbs to the frozen waters. In "The Woman and the Blue Sky," the narrator manipulates a young Chinese soldier into letting him witness a Tibetan sky burial. As the corpse, a young pregnant woman, is dismembered, her flesh given to the hawks and vultures, the soldier reveals that the young woman was his lover. The bleak settings and spare language work well together,thanks to translator Drew. Powerful, disturbing and complex.
“Extraordinary . . . Ma Jian has burned through the fog of fantasy that clouds our vision of Tibet: He has shown us how poverty and political repression have deformed its once rich and vibrant culture.” Francine Prose, People
“These powerful pages . . . are hard to shake from one's memory and remain . . . testimony to the storytelling artistry of Ma Jian.” The Washington Post
“The people Ma Jian transfigures, the images of a Tibet where the living and the dead seem to mingle with beauty and unease, all this becomes quite a striking souvenir of our own high altitude pilgrimage through these exotic pages.” NPR's All Things Considered