Picks and Pans Review: Stick Out Your Tongue

UPDATED 07/03/2006 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 07/03/2006 at 01:00 AM EDT

by Ma Jian

In 1985, the Chinese writer Ma Jian fled "the soulless society China had become" for the purer and more spiritual atmosphere of Tibet. There, he believed, he would learn about Tibetan mysticism and gain insight into his own Buddhist faith. But his experiences were far more mysterious—and more brutal—than anything he could have imagined, and they inspired the extraordinary stories in Stick Out Your Tongue. In one tale, a man must do penance for having slept with his mother and their daughter. In another, a woman hailed as an incarnation of the Buddha undergoes an initiation ceremony involving rape and, ultimately, death. Living in London, with his works banned in China (though they appear under pseudonyms there), Ma Jian has burned through the fog of fantasy that clouds our vision of Tibet: He has shown us how poverty and political repression have deformed its once rich and vibrant culture.

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