The dark road by Ma Jian

the dark road Ma Jian

The Dark Road by Ma Jian

Chinese fiction

Original title –  阴之道

Translator – Flora Drew

Source – Library copy

I have reviewed Ma Jian before his book stick out your tongue , which was like this book a book that had made the Independent foreign fiction prize list ,This is my first review after the long-list was announced and it is a writer I have enjoyed before .Ma Jian was born in Qingdao ,his education was cut short due to Mao’s cultural revolution .So he set about studying  a Chinese dictionary word by word ,moved to Bejing working as a photojournalist and also painting in the early 80’s he became involved with dissident movement .He published his first book in 1987 the one I read   a couple of years ago stick out your tongue .

“Keep out of this !” he replied , rubbing his cold red hands together .”Haven’t you read the public notice ? I f a woman is found to be pregnant without authorisation ,every household within one hundred meters of her home will be punished .You should reported her to the authorites before the child was born .As her next-door neighbour ,you’ll be fined at least a thousand Yuan .

The way the keep people in line making everyone a nosey parker and potential stool pigeon .

The dark road is another book set in the heart of china the china we don’t see .Melli is the main character in this book born into a peasant family ,we follow her journey down the Yangtze river with her husband Kongzi ,he was the teacher at the school in the village ,the pair have a daughter but due to the stringent One child rule at china (one that has only just been partly relaxed ) .The pair want a son so have to hit the road in this case the road is actually the river as we see them head through china to the south .Kongzi isn’t what he seems and is desperate for this second baby the son to carry on the family line .Along the way we see the ruin the rapid industrial growth of china has brought to the towns and river itself ,Also people lives who have been broken by the river a man looking for his mother that Melli briefly seems to connect with .Also over scandals like fake milk .All this as the pair try to avoid the state taking a potential second baby .

“Wait until your baby is born before you leave ” says Bo’s wife ,a scruffy women called Juru “You can give birth in the backstreet clinic behind the Family planning centre .The midwife only charge three hundred Yuan .

An example of the wry humor at times the backstreetclinc is next to theoffical family planning clinic .

This is a journey into the heart of darkness that is parts of modern china .Ma Jian is well-known as a critic of certain policies of the reigme ,but seeing this journey through Melli’s eyes it is hard not to avoid being critical of the regime ,from the piles of rotting junk at one point they work on sorting through ,to fake baby’s milk being sold .Then there is the vicious nature of the family planning police controlling the one child policy  also the widespread corruption .For me my heart just poured out for Melli a simple yet loyal woman who has a husband that rapes her ,people wanting to take her baby and then having to do a variety of vile jobs . The chapters all come with helpful bullet words at the start relating to the vital parts of each chapter  ,Thou the book has a dark sense to it ,there is also wry humour at times the sort of gallows humour that a world as dark as part of china in this book can bring  .As for translation it is near perfect as Flora Drew is Ma Jian wife and has already translated five of her husbands books .

Have you read Ma Jian ?


15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Bellezza
    Mar 15, 2014 @ 15:07:32

    My heart pours out to Meili, too, and the adversity with which the peasant women in China must live. This is a huge reason I am so engrossed in reading foreign fiction; they point to a way of life utterly new to me. The horror makes me simultaneously guilty and thankful for what I have in America.


  2. heavenali
    Mar 15, 2014 @ 22:36:28

    Another great review, this sounds excellent.


  3. Tony
    Mar 16, 2014 @ 12:14:11

    Just finished this one – I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it as such (how could you?), but it is a good book. More importantly though, this is a great example of what we were talking about earlier in the IFFP v BTBA discussion. This is a book about an issue, and I expect it to do well.


  4. kaggsysbookishramblings
    Mar 16, 2014 @ 13:02:16

    Chinese fiction is area where I’m oddly ignorant, so thanks for this excellent review Stu – must investigate further!


  5. jacquiwine
    Mar 17, 2014 @ 07:41:40

    Great review, Stu. I haven’t read Ma Jian (or much other Chinese fiction) before now so I’ll be coming to this one quite fresh, so to speak.


  6. Trackback: 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize Longlist « The Mookse and the Gripes
  7. Max Cairnduff
    Mar 25, 2014 @ 18:00:06

    I’ve read his Red Dust, there’s a review at mine (as well as a few other Chinese books). He’s an interesting writer.


  8. Trackback: #IFFP2014 guest post: @JacquiWine on The Dark Road | Follow the Thread
  9. Trackback: The Dark Road by Ma Jian | Dolce Bellezza

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March 2014


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