ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
The Chinese government has banned the books of Ma Jian since 1997. The dissident writer lives in London in self-imposed exile. His short stories now appear in a new English translation. The book is called Stick Out Your Tongue, and the stories were inspired by his trip to Tibet in the mid-1980s.
Alan Cheuse has our review.
ALAN CHEUSE: In the first sequence, titled The Woman and the Blue Sky, the narrator - a Chinese drifter who'd recently arrived from the East is how he describes himself - takes us up the mountain road to central Tibet into a world of holy lakes and powerful emotions.
He's on a quest to witness a Tibetan sky burial. In this ceremony, mourners wait until they have a sign that the deceased soul has left its body. Here, the corpse is that of a young Tibetan woman who has apparently died in childbirth. The bereaved then hack her body apart and feed the pieces to flocks of hovering vultures and eagles. The brief description of this ceremony, swelled by all the emotions attended upon it, is so excruciatingly beautiful, I could scarcely read and breathe at the same time.
The second chapter, titled The Smile of Lake Drolma, introduces to us to a Tibetan named Sonam. Having returned from working in the city, he wanders about in search of his nomad family, only to rejoin them in what seems like an oxygen-starved hallucination.
Time and reality bend for the narrator himself in the Golden Crown, the story of a love affair between an apprentice jewelry maker and the wife of his teacher. Up here, the narrator tells us, the altitude sharpened my awareness for detail, allowing many of the aspects of the story to remain crystal clear, so I know that I can't have made everything up.
The people Ma Jian transfigures, the images of a Tibet where the living and the dead seem to mingle with beauty and unease, all this becomes quite a striking souvenir of our own high altitude pilgrimage through these exotic pages.
SIEGEL: Ma Jian's story collection is called Stick Out Your Tongue. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.
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