In this a tragi-comic ride through the horrors and absurdities of totalitarianism, one of China's most revered exiled novelists satirizes President Xi Jinping’s promise of a "Chinese Dream" of prosperity for all with a protagonist who is Director of the China Dream Bureau, tasked with overwriting people’s private dreams with nationalist propaganda.
China Dream is a sharper political allegory than Mr. Ma’s earlier novels. It crackles with bruising satire of Chinese officialdom, and an acerbic wit that vaguely recalls Gary Shteyngart’s sendup of Russian oligarchs in Absurdistan, or even Nikolai Gogol’s portraits of Russia’s provincial aristocrats in Dead Souls ... China Dream may be the purest distillation yet of Mr. Ma’s talent for probing the country’s darkest corners and exposing what he regards as the Communist Party’s moral failings ... But even if China Dream paints a withering portrait of China’s official class...[it] also suggest[s] that even people who participate in a deeply corrupt and repressive system are capable of redemption.
Ma’s writing echoes writers such as Borges and Kafka in its absurdism, but its imagery is also filmic, with sequences alluding to the surrealist visions of Luis Buñuel as well as the grittier realities of Jia Zhangke’s work, in particular his 2013 film A Touch of Sin. It is a style which suits the modern China it depicts, matching both its concrete reality and its nightmarish illogicality. To say the novel’s brevity is also one of its charms sounds paradoxical, but in such allegorical fiction, where politics tends to be at least equal in importance to plot, it does not do to belabor the point ... and the novel has a power, literary and political, disproportionate to its length ... China Dream is a book which compellingly reveals the paranoia of the modern Chinese state[.]
...a biting and humane novel of stunning concision in which buried dreams and past betrayals erupt into the present moment ... Bleakly funny, incisive, stinging and—in its most destabilizing passages—gut-wrenching, China Dream, brilliantly translated by Flora Drew, is set at a time when reality and dystopia have begun to bleed into one another ... Ma has a marksman’s eye for the contradictions of his country and his generation, and the responsibilities and buried dreams they carry. His perceptiveness, combined with a genius for capturing people who come from all classes, occupations, backgrounds and beliefs; for identifying the fallibility, comedy and despair of living in absurd times, has allowed him to compassionately detail China’s complex inner lives.