Beijing Coma

Ma Jian, Author, Flora Drew, Translator . Farrar $27 (586p) ISBN 978-0-374-11017-8

The outcome of this bleak, wrenching generational saga from Ma Jian (Stick Out Your Tongue and The Noodle Maker ) is known from early on: the politicization of Dai Wei, a diligent molecular biology Ph.D. student at Beijing University, ends in Tiananmen Square with a bullet striking him in the head. As the book opens, Dai Wei is just waking from a coma that has continued over 10 years following the June 4, 1989, massacre—still apparently unconscious, but actually aware of his surroundings. The narrative then alternates between Dai Wei's very conscious observations as a nonresponsive ''vegetable'' over the years of his coma, and his childhood and student life. Ma Jian evokes the horrors of an oppressive regime in minute, gruesome detail, particularly in quotidian scenes of his mother's attempts to care for Dai Wei, which eventually lead her to a member of the banned Falun Gong movement. The book's behind-the-scenes portrayal of the nascent student movement hinges on repetitious ideological bickering and sexual power plays. Lengthy expositions of Dai Wei's condition slow the book further, but Ma Jian achieves startling effects through Dai Wei's dispassionate narration, making one man's felled body a symbol of lost possibility. (June)

Reviewed on: 04/21/2008
Release date: 05/01/2008
Hardcover - 586 pages - 978-0-307-39720-1
Open Ebook - 592 pages - 978-1-4299-3721-4
Paperback - 592 pages - 978-0-307-39721-8
Paperback - 703 pages - 978-0-312-42836-5
Paperback - 640 pages - 978-0-7011-8267-0
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