Review: The Dark Road ~ Ma Jian, Flora Drew (Translator)

The Dark RoadMeili, a young peasant woman born in the remote heart of China, is married to Kongzi, a village school teacher, and a distant descendant of Confucius. They have a daughter, but desperate for a son to carry on his illustrious family line, Kongzi gets Meili pregnant again without waiting for official permission. When family planning officers storm the village to arrest violators of the population control policy, mother, father and daughter escape to the Yangtze River and begin a fugitive life.

For years they drift south through the poisoned waterways and ruined landscapes of China, picking up work as they go along, scavenging for necessities and flying from police detection. As Meili’s body continues to be invaded by her husband and assaulted by the state, she fights to regain control of her fate and that of her unborn child.

4 Thumbs-UpI read this book on the recommendation of a reader of my blog posts, and was glad I took the time to do so.  If you are expecting a Chinese version of Alan Burgess’s The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, you will be sorely disappointed.  There is no fairy tale happy ending, this book is grim and full of atrocities almost as soon as you start reading; it lives up to its title very well.

This is the first book I have read that was translated from Chinese and, although it made me squirm in places, it is incredibly well written and well translated.  During the opening chapters I had to take time to read carefully to make sure I wasn’t missing any nuances that the translator had wanted to include, and this worked well to the point that in no time I was reading through the pages with ease.  The Author has written and developed some truly believable characters within this books covers, characters that can be both embraced and reviled by the reader. However, be under no illusion that, unless you have walked a mile in these characters shoes, that you will be able to relate to them in any way; I haven’t, I wouldn’t want to experience what they do, and I couldn’t relate to them because of the situation they are in and the events that happen to them, I didn’t feel that this inability to connect with characters hurt my enjoyment of this novel in any way at all.

It is not light entertainment by any means, and contains graphic descriptions of the events that take place within its pages; one such being an abortion performed at eight months (just recalling this passage makes me shudder anew).  The Author brings to the surface all that is wrong with the One Child Policy practiced in China, and makes the policy all the more disturbing as they skilfully convey to the reader that there is nothing they can do about this.

This book is chilling, infuriating at times and almost unbearable to continue reading at others as it chronicles the inhumanity of the above mentioned policy, and the lengths that people will go to in order to avoid detection of their violation of this rule; most of all this is an incredible book with a wonderfully presented storyline written in a manner that will make you think about it long after you have closed the book for the last time.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who would like to expand their reading sphere, providing they are not overly squeamish.

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