Bleakly funny, incisive, stinging and – in its most destabilising passages – gut-wrenching, China Dream, brilliantly translated by Flora Drew, is set at a time when reality and dystopia have begun to bleed into one another. In the kaleidoscope of Ma Daode’s thoughts, different times converge; dream locations are overlaid on the sites of nightmares.... Ma has a marksman’s eye for the contradictions of his country and his generation, and the responsibilities and buried dreams they carry... Censoring his novels and banning his name have been Beijing’s cynical response to Ma’s artistry, and to the human lives that the novelist cannot forget, even as the Chinese Dream envelops them.
Ma Jian’s novels have been banned in his native China for 30 years and he has been hailed as ‘China’s Solzhenitsyn’. His latest book, China Dream, also contains some of the zip and vigour found in Margaret Atwood’s dystopian visions. This must be one of the liveliest novels about brainwashing ever written.
Not for nothing has Ma been called both the Orwell and Solzhenitsyn of Chinese literature; his depiction of a totalitarian state is lancing. There are heavy insinuations of the far-right reach of American politics, and perhaps a warning; the book’s jacket, the image of an ancient tree, is a bespoke design for the book by China’s rebel artist Ai Weiwei... Believable and brutal, this is Ma’s boldest and, despite its brevity, most elegiac work. Undoubtedly, from China’s point of view, it is also his most bannable.