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Spiked with dark wit, poetic beauty and deep rage, Beijing Coma takes the life (and near-death) of one young student to create a dazzling and excoriating novel about contemporary China. Shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Award.
Ma Jian was born in Qingdao, China in 1953. He worked as a watchmender's apprentice and a painter of propaganda boards. Later he was assigned the job of photojournalist for a state-run magazine. Aged 30, he left work and travelled for three years across China -- a journey later described in his book Red Dust, winner of the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award. He left Beijing for Hong Kong in 1987 but continued to travel to China, notably to support the pro-democracy activists in Tiananmen Square in 1989. After the hand-over of Hong Kong he moved to Germany and then London, where he now lives. Chatto have also published his novel, The Noodle Maker, and his story collection about Tibet, Stick Out Your Tongue, the book which prompted the Chinese government to ban Ma Jian's work and which set him on the road to exile.
The outcome of this bleak, wrenching generational saga from Ma Jian (Stick Out Your Tongue and The Noodle Maker) is known from early on: the politicization of Dai Wei, a diligent molecular biology Ph.D. student at Beijing University, ends in Tiananmen Square with a bullet striking him in the head. As the book opens, Dai Wei is just waking from a coma that has continued over 10 years following the June 4, 1989, massacre--still apparently unconscious, but actually aware of his surroundings. The narrative then alternates between Dai Wei's very conscious observations as a nonresponsive ``vegetable'' over the years of his coma, and his childhood and student life. Ma Jian evokes the horrors of an oppressive regime in minute, gruesome detail, particularly in quotidian scenes of his mother's attempts to care for Dai Wei, which eventually lead her to a member of the banned Falun Gong movement. The book's behind-the-scenes portrayal of the nascent student movement hinges on repetitious ideological bickering and sexual power plays. Lengthy expositions of Dai Wei's condition slow the book further, but Ma Jian achieves startling effects through Dai Wei's dispassionate narration, making one man's felled body a symbol of lost possibility. (June) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Unconscious for ten years after being injured during the Tiananmen Square protests, Dai Wei wakes up to a whole new China. Former dissident Ma now lives in London. Reading group guide. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
"This is an epic yet intimate work that deserves to be recognised and to endure as the great Tiananmen novel ... a magnificent book brim-full of humanity, insight and humour ... beautifully translated by Flora Drew" Financial Times "Once in a while - perhaps every 10 years, or even every generation - a novel appears that profoundly questions the way we look at the world, and at ourselves. Beijing Coma is a poetic examination not just of a country at a defining moment in its history, but of the universal right to remember and to hope. It is, in every sense, a landmark work of fiction" Daily Telegraph "A huge achievement ... a landmark account through fiction of a country whose rise has amazed the world, but which remains cloaked in shadows... finely written and translated" The Times "A modern literary masterpiece ... Ma Jian has created an intense, passionate and painful-to-read parable for today. The elegant and bravura writing of Ma Jian is utterly convincing" Sunday Express "Monumental... splendidly translated by Flora Drew... This vivid, pungent, often blackly funny book is a mighty gesture of remembrance against the encroaching forces of silence" Guardian