Monday, July 29, 2013

The Dark Road by Ma Jian

Dark is definitely an apt adjective to describe this book.  Though fascinating, it was terribly depressing, particularly if this fictional tale is even remotely based upon fact.  Meili, is a young Chinese peasant, married to Kongzi, a distant descendant of Confucius.  Meili and Kongzi have a 2 1/2 year old daughter but Kongzi is obsessed with producing the next generation male heir to Confucius so gets his wife pregnant without waiting for official permission.  When family planning officers crack down on their village, forcibly aborting, sterilizing and inserting IUD's, Meili, Kongzi and their daughter go on the run.  They escape on the Yangtze and wander for years - living in boats, on islands, and in decrepit shacks that have been abandoned either to make room for the Three Gorges Dam project or due to overwhelming pollution from the thriving electronic waste business.  Despite his best efforts, Kongzi and Meili are unable to produce a living son and it is Meili who truly suffers for it.  She's subjected to abortions, forced imprisonment and labour, forced prostitution, extreme poverty and poor health.  Despite all the exploitation, and very little education, Meili is resilient and creative when it comes to providing for herself and her small family.  She always finds work, even opening and operating small shops, while her dreaming and often drunk husband is far less capable.  Yet, even with all her persistence, her dreams of becoming an educated, well dressed, urban working woman seem out of reach.

A worthwhile read but you have to be in the right frame of mind as it is really depressing.  I also must take the time to praise the translator - I have read books translated from the Chinese before which have been hard to follow.  This one flows beautifully in English.

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