cover image THE NOODLE MAKER


Ma Jian, Jian Ma, , trans. from the Chinese by Flora Drew. . Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $21 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-374-22307-6

Having "boarded the express train of the Open Door Policy," the characters in Ma's (Red Dust ) satisfying, satirical novel now find themselves disembarking in a land caught between the "bourgeois liberalism" of the West and the Communist strictures of the East. Here a novelist wears nail polish ("Blood-stained hands!") as Party leaders appoint her the town's first "professional writer," while an entrepreneurial son surreally roasts his willing mother in his busy homemade crematorium. The interlocked stories that make up this work spill out over a Sunday night dinner between two argumentative old friends: Sheng, a blocked writer just one propagandist novel away from an entry in The Great Dictionary of Chinese Writers , and Vlazerim, a wealthy professional blood donor. Sheng longs to write a novel based on the lives of his intimates, but the consequences of defying the Party, including demotion in professional rank and guaranteed literary obscurity, paralyze him. Instead he spends his days vociferously critiquing his neighbors' cooking as he daydreams. In these imaginings, he transforms the lives of those around him into high art, in much the same way a noodle maker turns plain ingredients into nourishing sustenance. Ma's spare meal of a novel provides an excellent counterpoint to the sumptuous lyrical banquet Soul Mountain by Nobel Prize winner and fellow expatriate Gao Xingjian. Agent, Sarah Chalfant. (Jan.)

Forecast: This short, elegantly odd book may prove an accessible introduction for U.S. readers to contemporary Chinese literature. First serial to the New Yorker.