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Red Dust Paperback – 2 May 2002


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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (2 May 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099283298
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099283294
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 55,647 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

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 Paperback edition.

Review

"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)

"Red Dust 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" (Time)

"[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)

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 11 Sept. 2001
Format: Paperback
This is a great book that is thoroughly enjoyable to read. It's nice to read a travelogue-style book written by a Chinese author, and the details of his perspective paint a picture that would not have been possible for an outsider. As much an inward soul-searching as long distance wandering, this book works on several levels. I really hope to see more from this author.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Jim Thurman on 2 Sept. 2001
Format: Paperback
Red Dust is not an easy book to describe, better to just experience it for yourself. Ma Jian is eloquent, funny, incredibly observant, honest. His quest to find himself is one that anyone can relate to who has ever felt the absurdity of the society surrounding him. I would immediately order anything else I found from this author.
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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful By david.johnston@scotland.com on 16 Oct. 2001
Format: Paperback
I hugely enjoyed this very honest perspective of China, without the usual political rhetoric, or the "I lived through it all, and I'm still alive - amn't I wonderful". This is the China of work units, documentation, guanxi, open plains, minimal accomodation, lethargy, enterprise ... a land of contrasts with a culture of social control that has existed for thousands of years longer than the Communist Party.
I recommend this book in particular, for those (like myself) who have travelled to China, but feel they will never experience what it is like to be Chinese. Brillianty written, honest, interesting, and thought provoking, and at times an inspiring account of a man just trying to be a man.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 15 July 2001
Format: Paperback
This was the most fascinating book I have read in the last few years - perhaps my interest was piqued by my forthcoming move to China. Nevertheless, I was amazed by Ma's honesty and the vividness of his language. His travels through China reflect those of Gao but with a level of realism which is lacking in the magical equivalent of the Nobel prize winner.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By LML on 1 Jan. 2009
Format: Paperback
I picked up this book with the thought that it might provide me with a way of understanding what it is like to live and work in a country where the culture is so very different from my own. The book certainly did that, but it also provided the opportunity to travel through China with a companion who is amusing with a strong intellectual curiousity.

The journey through China is an escape for Ma Jian, who has found that his life in Beijing has become very uncomfortable, not only because of the breakdown in his marriage, but also because his ideas and friendships are starting to attract the attention of the authorities.

Ma Jian is an unsentimental observer; throughout his travels his descriptions of the people that he meets and the places that he visits are detailed and have the sense of being painfully honest, but are often compassionate. The lack of sentiment gives the descriptions a sense of realism; this is China without the tourism spin and is all the more fascinating because of the plain speaking.

I really didn't want the book to end - I know that I will read it again with even more pleasure. If you have an interest in China this book will inform you (bearing in mind that it was written in the 1980's) and give you the opportunity to experience various aspects of life there. I think that the translation has also proved how important it is to have a translator who is also a fine writer. There is never a sense of a third person intruding between the writer and the reader. I would highly recommend this book both as travel writing and autobiography.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jim Anso on 9 Oct. 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ma Jian's travels around China, coupled with a fascinating insight into the life of the author create an amazing combination.For me Ma Jian's character as a Chinese, intellectual, long-haired rebel is what makes this book so great. Whilst reading the book Ma Jian comes into many different situations that provide someone who has never been to China a strong insight into the diversity of life and customs throughout the 'giant chicken' (China). Ma Jian ends up in totally unique situations whilst trying to travel around a country which still has a strong dominating totalitarian governement. Whilst at the same time, it is the craziness of Ma Jian's character that puts him in other bizzare situations. It is just fascinating to see what he will do next. Whether it be a serious situation which Ma Jian reflects on in a deep and insightful way, or whether he finds himself in an amusing circumstance- the author covers it all. I loved reading this book- it completely captured my imagination and made me wish I could travel around China on foot!
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By irisonbooks on 13 April 2010
Format: Paperback
Red Dust by Ma Jian tells the story of the writer's 3 year track through China in the eighties, before leaving the country for Hong Kong and later England. It won the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award in 2002, but this one wasn't for me.

The thing is, almost from the start I knew I wasn't going to like Ma Jian much. His talk on sex with different girls, partying and his seemingly endless list of poet-friends got on my nerves (even if I think it does illustrate the escapism involved in a country that is in such disarray). That might be all my fault: I am a self-admitted prude that cannot stand reading about men who feel they want to commit, but sleep around with different girls all at the same time.

Nevertheless, there were things I liked about this book. I think it provides an interesting look at the confused state of China following its modernizations. It also reminds the reader of the vast expanse of the country and the tremendous differences between regions. However, I have a feeling that this realization might've been more powerful if Ma Jian's style would admit to paying more attention to his surroundings and not jumping from one of his minor concerns to the next, every other paragraph.
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