On very rare occasions, a book can be so fresh, vivid and sincere that its integrity will be apparent almost before you have begun reading it. This brilliant account of a three-year exploration of China during the first wave of economic liberalisation following the death of Mao Zedong is one such book.
In Red Dust, Ma Jian tells the story of how, on his 30th birthday, facing arrest for spiritual pollution in his journalistic job in Beijing, he fakes an attack of hepatitis and flees into the Chinese hinterland. Uprooting himself from a bohemian lifestyle and his estranged wife and child, Jian walks vast distances and immerses himself in the remotest parts of China. Travelling clandestinely, and with little or no money, Jian survives by doing odd jobs and publishing poetry and short stories through his network of literary friends. At the same time, he has amazing adventures: on one occasion he finds himself lost in the desert with no water for three days; later on he has to scale a huge cliff with no equipment.
There is nothing emasculated or sanitised about this genuine adventure. Jian is forced to live from his wits. At one time he has to mug his own muggers back to rescue his camera; then he scrapes a living by selling scouring powder as toothpaste. These escapades, beautifully translated from the Chinese by Flora Drew, are told in an understated and elegant style, and, with Jian's status as both an insider and outsider, provide a complete portrait of what life is like for ordinary Chinese people in a way that no foreign writer could ever emulate. By turns poetic, wise and brave, Red Dust is worthy of a place alongside other great books of Chinese literature, such as The Mountain Village and Wild Swans, as both a classic work of travel writing and a compelling meditation on the spiritual bankruptcy of an age when all humanity's Gods have been shattered. --Toby Green
--This text refers to an alternate
"Enthralling... He depicts a land of extraordinary physical beauty and interest and his prose is always elegant. Read this book for its human truthfulness and for unforgettable moments" (Daily Telegraph
is a tour de force
, a powerfully picaresque cross between the sort of travel book any Western author would give his eye-teeth to write, and a disturbing confession" (Independent
"It opens windows on landscapes small and vast, all still largely unobserved and unknown to Westerners" (Observer
"Honest, raw, insightful... The Chinese equivalent of On the Road
"[Ma's] powers of description make every page buzz with life... Someone who could rank among the great travel writers" (New York Times Book Review