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Described on the cover as "a new Wild swans", this was a definite must-buy recently when I saw it on the shelves of my local charity shop. Having enjoyed both Wild Swans and Mao, The Untold Story both written by authoress Jung Chang (the latter in co-operation with her husband, John Halliday), I could see no reason why I wouldn't also enjoy this book which takes a look at China in the first years after the death of Mao Tse-Tung.
Ma Jian is an artist working for the Department Of Propaganda in the heart of Bejing who has made enemies of his superiors both for his uncouth and unkempt appearance and for failing to make a satisfying self-criticism. Alienated by his estranged ex-wife who wishes to keep him from his child and threatened with arrest for crimes against The State, Jian heads off on a journey around "new China" on a kind of spiritual pasage that sees him gaining all manner of new experiences; some good but equally some bad.
Right from early on in the opening chapters, I began to feel pretty negative about this book and to be honest, it never really got much better. Comparing this on the cover to Wild Swans is a travesty as Swans is a far, far superior account of life living in China and there is very little here that appealed to me at all. Jian is never very welcoming as a narrator to his life and, at no point, has to endure anything like those ordeals suffered by Chang, her mother and her Grandmother! In fact this book is more of a travel memoir but even when Jian does begin travelling, the narrative still fails to warm up any. I personally found myself becoming increasingly more bored and the only saving grace for me was that it was a relatively short book that was over quite quickly!
At a quick glance over at Amazon, I appear to be in the minority and there are lots of reviews there that praise this but I cannot help thinking that there are a lot better books available that are much more informative and that this, for me, was a bitter disappointment! Try as I might, I could find very little here to like - either in the writing style or in Jian's accounts of his experiences - and this is certainly not one book I would reccomend!