I borrowed Beijing Coma by Ma Jian from T's mum. She'd asked for it for her birthday after a trip to China.
The book's two narrative strands centre around Dai Wei, a young chinese man. In one he is growing up, at school and university, in the years, months and days leading up to and including the Tiananmen Square protests. In the other he is in a waking coma after being shot in the protests. His mother cares for him and friends visit and bring news of a changing China as they move on with their own lives.
The thing that struck me most was how trapped Dai Wei is - he describes his body as a "fleshy grave". The split plot emphasises even more the drastic change in his life - the juxtaposition of him as a passionate, active young man with a girlfriend and grand plans for his future, and the completely helpless man, a mind trapped in a body it can't control.
The protests plot didn't completely grip me - I was constantly confused by the many many characters constantly being introduced and I found the time scale quite unclear. I'm still not sure if the protests lasted weeks or days. I found some of the detail to be unnecessarily graphic, which made me want to put the book down. I think I struggled with the book because I like to see some humour or beauty of happiness in a story. I didn't get much of that from Beijing Coma, and I found a lot of the characters quite cold, it was hard to identify with them or get emotionally invested in the book. However, it has piqued my interest. I've seen a huge gap in my knowledge here and I'd like to find out more.
Not one I'd rush to recommend to a friend, I did have to push myself to keep going with it, but it was well written.