The Noodle Maker
deserves way better than its current 3.33 rating. It consists of several loosely interconnected short stories, sometimes with a touch of surreal, often with a delicious dark humor, and mostly absurd.
A satire of the Chinese society affected by the Open Door Policy (instituted by Deng Xiaoping in 1978), this book has an interesting array of characters: the failed writer who dreams of his big novel, but instead writes political-oriented articles about everyday made-up heroes; the professional blood donor who has become a rich man exploiting the benefits of his occupation; the jealous actress who wants to get revenge on her lover by committing a most peculiar suicide; the young woman whom nobody thinks is still a virgin because of her rather huge breasts; a talking dog who debates with a man that dogs are superior to humans.
My favorite was the story of a middle-aged man who still lived with his mother, both taking care of their business - an independent crematorium. Man, was this a bizarre and twisted story! The son has a whole philosophy in choosing the right music for the dead, according to their status in life and the money their relatives pay.
There was also a mention of Nicolae Ceaușescu, out late Romanian dictator, in a funny context (I'll try to translate it):The year when Ceausescu was due to visit their town, the mayoralty decided to hide the ugliest buildings on the main boulevards behind pressed wood panels, previously painted as to resemble a line of good-looking houses. Ceausescu was passing in a hurry anyway, so only his first impression was of importance.
What Wikipedia says about the author:
Ma Jian is a vocal critic of China's Communist regime. His works explore themes and subjects that are taboo in China. He has continually called for greater freedom of expression and the release of jailed writers and other political prisoners. As a result, his books have been banned in China for the last 25 years, and since the summer of 2011, he has been denied entry into the mainland.
I strongly recommend this book if you want to get a cynical glimpse of China, if you enjoy dark humor and don't mind a heavy dose of absurd and surreal.
P.S.: A piece of music from the "father of Chinese rock", Cui Jian: