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The Noodle Maker: A Novel by Ma Jian

The Noodle Maker: A Novel (1991)

by Ma Jian

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Although this book gives you several glances of the "less pretty" side of the Chinese culture, I must say that I found it dull, boring and awfully pornographic.
The book's main story is one of two guys who meet once in a week to share meat and mead, using this opportunity to discuss a couple of aspects of the world around them. One of the guys is a blood donor by profession, the other is a writer who has absolutely no brilliant ideas for his book about the government. Apparently what give the book its name is the fact that nearby where they meet (the writer's apartment) there is a restaurant that makes fish soup and the smell of it always invades the place. I'm still trying to figure out what exactly is the meaning of it and its relevance on the whole story, but the metaphor must be really good because I still haven't thought about any relations between them and, frankly, I don't think I'm even slightly interested in knowing it.
The book is not fixed on the conversation between this two characters: it shifts through the story of several people belonging to lower classes of the Chinese quotidian. The stories aren't completely bad, but I did not enjoy the writing style and the way the stories were told. Even though they are easy to understand, all of them are somewhat chaotic, don't seem to have a purpose or meaning and gosh, I have yet to see that much pornography in a book that is NOT supposed to be focused on people's sexual lives (which are portrayed in a very gruesome manner, by the way). I wish I was joking about it, but the author actually dedicates a whole chapter in the book to talk about women's breasts.
While I do understand that Chinese culture is sexually repressed, I still didn't find any of the sex scenes necessary in the story. Ma Jian also seems to be quite obsessed by the low and grotesque characteristics that humanize people, such as peeing, taking a dump, stinking and stuff like that, which appear very, very frequently.

This is a book that probably portrays China as it really is, from the point of view of poor people with decades of political oppression, which doesn't necessarily make it a good book. At least not one that I would recommend. ( )
  aryadeschain | Aug 26, 2014 |
Let it be known that I did not read this under the best circumstances: short works give me trouble, short stories even more so, and what with the last few days consisting of the overbearing [War and Peace] competing with my current under the weather state, I in no way gave this introduction to a brand new author the attention it deserved. Ema and Kris do a far better job, and I am planning on coming back to Ma with [Beijing Coma]. But enough excuses.

Despite all that, I know dark satire when I see it, and Ma's constant references to the Open Door Policy and its capitalistic rampage across Communist China clinched the urgency. The problems stem from my own experiences, deluged as they are in hating the lie of the patriarchal 'free market' without having but the slightest awareness of the social, cultural, and historical context Ma is coming from. It was only after finishing the book and subsequently rereading Kris' review that I realized the undercurrent of anger, a truth I couldn't see for all the gratuitous beating and raping and ultimate trivializing of the female form. I will read about the horrors of Communism and Capitalism and appreciate the truth of the stories any day, but not at the expense of myriad female caricatures sacrificed without ado.

As mentioned, the work is short, time was shorter, and I didn't have the tools to engage with the stories enough to distract me from one of my major caveats. However, I did very much enjoy the story of the mother and son and their choreographing crematorium, where bodies are burnt to the sound of their favorite music as calculated by their Party status and other officiated characteristics. And, of course, the noodle maker. I understand that metaphor all too well, and will be coming back for more. ( )
2 vote Korrick | Jun 21, 2014 |
This book is set somewhere in the times that China was coming out of the Mao era, and details the changes in society taking place at that time, through a series of stories of the people at the time.
The stories seem to take place in the background of dinner conversations between two friends, the writer and the blood donor.
The stories are dark, quirky and somewhat eccentric. I would not say that they are terribly clear or interesting or amusing, however. A bit obtuse, and could have been much better and sarcastic
I went in with hope, and came out a bit disappointed. ( )
  RajivC | Jun 1, 2014 |
Ma Jian is a Chinese writer and a dissident. He was born in 1953, so he is part of the generation of Chinese who lived through Mao's Cultural Revolution as children and young adults, as well as seeing the implementation -- and the limitations -- of Deng Xiaoping's Open Door economic policy. Ma has not been a silent observer of the myriad ways in which the Chinese government has cracked down on freedom of expression in Chinese society; he has been a member of the dissident community of Chinese artists and writers for decades, both while living in China and Hong Kong, and later from exile in Europe. Ma has suffered for his outspokenness. His [book:Stick Out Your Tongue|389681], published in 1987, was censured and his writings were banned by the Chinese government -- a ban that extended to his future publications.

Ma Jian

In addition to his earlier commitment to the dissident arts community in China, Ma participated in the 1989 democracy protests in Beijing, which culminated in the Tiananmen Massacre. In the devastating aftermath of this brutal crackdown, Ma remained in Beijing and wrote [book:The Noodle Maker|321223], an extremely dark satire fueled by Ma's anger and disillusionment with Chinese communist society and politics. The novel is framed by an ongoing conversation between a professional blood donor, who has made millions giving blood and providing others with the means to do so despite limitations of height, weight, or frequency of past donations, and a professional writer, who blends his observations of the world around him with his consideration of the characters that populate a novel he is writing, who often seem more real to him than the people he sees around him every day. That interspersing of reality and fantasy holds true throughout [book:The Noodle Maker|321223], which includes healthy strains of surrealism as we move from framing discussions and interjections from the blood donor and the writer, and stories which introduce us to different characters who are dysfunctionally trying to negotiate life in a society where compassion is difficult to find, where empty slogans guide people's lives, where progress is measured not in terms of happiness or fulfillment, but in terms of economic production, material signs of Westernization, and complete adherence to the latest government dictates.

The novel's stories combine dark flights of fantasy with brutal action. In one story, an entrepreneur buys a ceramics furnace and opens a crematorium along with his elderly mother, in which he provides a special twist -- mourners can pay for him to play specific musical selections while their loved ones are being cremated. In another, an actress decides on her final performance -- committed suicide on stage by being eaten by a tiger. In the most horrifying scene in the novel, a man and his companion, a three-legged dog who speaks Chinese, watch from their terrace as a girl is gang raped. A huge crowd of onlookers gathers and watches, as a group of police slowly try to reach the girl and some government officials hold a meeting -- during the rape -- to decide what actions to take. Ma Jian writes with a white-hot anger that practically drips off the page.

This novel accomplished exactly what Ma wanted it to. The characters and stories haunt me. I can't shake them off. As an anguished cry against the inhumanity of life in Communist China, which Ma has devoted his life to fighting, [book:The Noodle Maker|321223] is disturbing and difficult to read, but profoundly affecting, one of the strongest examples I have read of dark social satire. ( )
  KrisR | May 9, 2013 |
A satirical look at post-Maoist but probably pre-capitalist China.

Two friends meet for dinner, get drunk and talk. One is a writer of political propaganda, the other a professional blood donor. [Not so symbolic and highly symbolic "professions."] The writer recounts stories he would create, had he the courage. The other campaigns to be the subject for his friends new assignment – to write a Communist Hero tale to inspire the worker bees.

The novel is constructed around the wanna be novelist's stories that are bridged by the satirical and witty comments of the blood donor. The people who exist in the imagining of the writer lead lives “pulled and pummeled by fate and politics as if they were in the hands of a noodle maker.”

Warm, engaging, bitingly humorous, and devastating. Great read that illustrates grim reality as well as astonishing resilience of the Chinese people living under a government that stifles individuality, smothers personal initiative, and punishes originality The style seems less traditional novel and more like a necklace of vignettes, each pearl of a story linked by the intervening conversational commentary and thoughts of the frustrated writer and the assertive blood donor. ( )
  Limelite | Dec 9, 2012 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ma Jianprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Drew, FloraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312424795, Paperback)

From Mi Jian, the highly acclaimed Chinese dissident, comes a satirical novel about the absurdities of life in a post-Tiananmen China.

Two men meet for dinner each week. Over the course of one of these drunken evenings, the writer recounts the stories he would write, had he the courage: a young man buys an old kiln and opens a private crematorium, delighting in his ability to harass the corpses of police officers and Party secretaries, while swooning to banned Western music; a heartbroken actress performs a public suicide by stepping into the jaws of a wild tiger, watched nonchalantly by her ex-lover. Extraordinary characters inspire him, their lives pulled and pummeled by fate and politics, as if they are balls of dough in the hands of an all-powerful noodle maker.

Ma Jian's satirical masterpiece allows us a humorous, yet profound, glimpse of those struggling to survive under a system that dictates their every move.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:30 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Written in the aftermath of the Tiananmen massacre, 'The Noodle Maker' is a virtuoso piece of red humour - a darkly funny novel about the absurdities and cruelties of life in modern China.

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