Friday Staff Pick: Red Dust

Red Dust

Ma Jian

Red Dust is a rich, strange, searching travelogue through the outposts of communist China by an adventurous, dissident poet. Author Ma is often compared to the Beats–but imagine if Kerouac had to escape from a Kafka novel in order to go “on the road.” That particular comparision doesn’t do justice to Ma’s restrained writing, eye for haunting details, and ability to say cutting things with just a few words.

—Recommended by Matt, City Lights Books

 

In 1983, at the age of thirty, dissident artist Ma Jian finds himself divorced by his wife, separated from his daughter, betrayed by his girlfriend, facing arrest for “Spiritual Pollution,” and severely disillusioned with the confines of life in Beijing. So with little more than a change of clothes and two bars of soap, Ma takes off to immerse himself in the remotest parts of China. His journey would last three years and take him through smog-choked cities and mountain villages, from scenes of barbarity to havens of tranquility. Remarkably written and subtly moving, the result is an insight into the teeming contradictions of China that only a man who was both insider and outsider in his own country could have written.

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