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.