The Dark Road by Ma Jian

Men control our vaginas; the state controls our wombs. You can try to lock up your body, but the government still owns the key. That’s just woman’s fate.” p. 29

Meili and Kongzi are a couple whose home has been destroyed by the family planning officers who enforce China’s One Child Policy. Now they must live by their wits, feeling lucky to be able to afford a houseboat on which they live ensconced by the filthy Yangtze River. It is filled with trash, and corpses, and pollution, but this is still the water they boil to drink. The water they use to wash. The water which will hopefully carry them to a better life.

Their journey is fraught with despair, filled with fear and filth. While Meili longs to wear high heeled sandals and work in an air-conditioned office, her husband longs for a son who will be the seventy-seventh descendant of his line from Confucius. Once he was a teacher, now he, his wife and his four year old daughter are fugitives hoping for a brighter day as they travel the dark road.

As a member of the shadow jury for the IFFP, I rate this book 5 out 10 for writing, 6 out of 10 for story and 6 out of 10 for longevity. It is a heartbreaking story which, as I commented to Stu, left me simultaneously grateful and guilty for the life I have in America.