From Mi 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.
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.44(d)|
About the Author
Ma Jian is the author of Red Dust, which won the Thomas Cook Prize in the UK. His most recent novel is Stick Out Your Tongue (FSG). He now lives in England.
Read an Excerpt
The Professional Writer
The study faces a kitchen window of the opposite building. At midday or dusk, 'waves of delicious frying smells stroke or sometimes blast their way through my nose and stomach'. The professional writer always speaks with this level of precision during his conversations with the professional blood donor.
The writer can now distinguish smells from at least three of the kitchens below. Living at the top of an eight-floor building as he does, he has no choice but to get used to them. As long as the couple from Hubei (he's convinced they are the culprits) are not fouling the air with their fried chillies, he can sit back and enjoy the smells that waft up from several floors below. Whenever he pushes his window open to let the smells in, his eyes drift from the blank manuscript paper on his desk, and he sinks into a trance.
The kitchen directly opposite him is very much to his taste, and if he's not feeling too particular, he can spend an entire afternoon luxuriating in the fragrance of their fish-head soup. He's seen those large fish heads in the market; you only need buy half a head to make a pot of soup. As the middle-aged woman in the kitchen opposite tosses the Superior Dried Mushrooms, fresh from the local supermarket, into the wok, the professional writer (forties, slightly overweight, single) is overcome once more by the sweet aromas. Now and then, in the dim light, he glimpses a short little man appearing and disappearing between the kitchen implements and washing-up cloths, sausages and prime joints of ham that hang from the ceiling. If their smoke extractor were not making such a racket, he'd be able to hear them talk, and then he could find out at last whether the short little man is her husband, her son, or a Jewish trader from Chaozhou. This question often flits through his mind when he stares down at the blank page on his desk. Before his good friend the professional blood donor arrives today, he spits furious insults at the kitchen. 'Ginger!' he mutters impatiently. 'Fucking idiots! Don't you know you have to put ginger in fish-head soup?'
Later that Sunday afternoon, the blood donor turns up at the writer's apartment block as usual. Listening to him plod and pant up the stairwell, the writer can tell that his friend has just given blood. The donor is indeed as happy as a poet as he struggles up the stairs, for today he's brought with him wine (it's usually a bottle of Anhui or Hubei medicinal wine), roast goose, eggs (real brown eggs) and the writer's favourite delicacy: a jar of spicy broad beans. Soon the friends will swig back the wine and start to rummage through the fragments of their lives. They will pour their hearts out to each other, insult and curse each other, while all the time savouring the pleasant sensation of food rubbing into their stomachs. Then the blood donor will try to provoke the writer into swearing at him. He loves to hear him swear; the foul language offers him a spiritual comfort sorely lacking in a life lived through giving blood.
'For fuck's sake!' he will hear the writer moan as the alcohol drifts to his head. 'You're wasting your time on those fucking losers, you miserable bastard . . .'
The writer opens his door to let the blood donor in. After a brisk embrace, they arrange the food on plates, open the bottle of wine, and spread out sheets of manuscript paper for the discarded bones. The writer then carefully tears a sheet of paper in half to make two napkins: one for his hands, the other for his mouth. (His grandfather did the same when he was alive, but used a piece of old cloth instead.) They take their seats at the table. The writer squeezes into his state-allotted black leather revolving chair, the professional blood donor perches on a plastic stool.
'Are you suffering, my friend?' the blood donor asks, hoping to lure the writer out of his shell. 'Last week you said that life was hell. Am I right?'
'Last year I thought life was hell. Last week I thought it was unbearable. Today I just think it's a bore. Maybe tomorrow I'll give up on this damn novel, if I still can't manage to put these characters onto the page.' The professional writer's voice is always hoarse before the wine starts to take effect. It sounds as though he is putting it on.
'But you hate those people! You said they're dregs, worthless trash. You said I was the scum of the earth too. Why waste your time writing about them?' The blood donor's face is as pale as it was when he first entered the room.
'I want to transform their lives into a work of art, although I'm sure they will never bother to read it.' The writer glances around the room, or perhaps he's just moving his head. 'Stupid bastards!' he grumbles. 'They always forget to put ginger in their fish-head soup.'