Thursday, May 6, 2010

Stick Out Your Tongue

The other short book I picked up while I was waiting for my holds to come in could not be saved from an awful rating by it's lack of length. Part of me feels like I should appreciate this book more than I do because the Chinese government banned it. In the afterword, Ma talks about why it was and the problems he had with the government because of it (this took place eighteen years ago, the book was only published in English five years ago). Ma states that when he heard the news the announcer claimed that "this filthy and shameful work has nothing to do with reality, but is instead the product of the author's imagination and his obsessive desire for sex and money". That's actually what I got out of it.

According to the dustjacket flap, the book is about the travels in Tibet of a Chinese writer whose marriage has fallen apart. That may be. There are five chapters which come across more as short stories. There is no interlinking of the stories, no reason to think that they are all told by one narrator and the narrator is so minor, it wouldn't matter if he was traveling because his marriage fell apart or any other reason. There is one line in the fourth story which indicates that the narrator is no longer married. Other than that, there is no mention. No reflections, no discussion over why the marriage ended. Total throwaway line.

The stories themselves are bizarre, mystical and creepy sexual. In the one, a woman marries brothers but also sleeps with a guard protecting a phone line to a village. In another, a man has sex with his mother and daughter (who is the result of his dalliances with his mother. It's not a family tree, it's a family circle). Yet another has a woman essentially being raped as part of a Buddhist initiation rite. And much like the details of the narrator, the details of the locales where these stories take place don't matter all that much. Because of the mystical nature of them (are they dreams? are they reality?) they could take place anywhere where there are yaks and monks (about the only discerning features of the environment). You could make a drinking game out of this book where everyone has to drink whenever yak butter is mentioned. You would get drunk after about thirty pages.

I wanted to think that this book was banned because it took a strong political stance and brought to light injustices in China. Instead, it just made me think that the Chinese government has taste and morals.

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