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No Sail on the Western Sea takes two favorite novellas by the well-known Chinese author Ma Yuan and combines them into a single volume. With the shared location of Tibet, both of these stories delve into the intricacies of personal relationships and emotions. A kaleidoscope which reflects the heightened sensation of adventurous lives acted out on the Tibetan plateau, these stories reflect the avant-garde storytelling technique for which Ma Yuan is known.
In the title story, No Sail on the Western Sea, a group of young Chinese artists traveling in the sparsely inhabited region of western Tibet are stranded when their truck breaks down. Trapped in the middle of nowhere, each of the group reacts in a different way to the impending disaster they've landed in. Ma Yuan assembles and reassembles their varied experiences like a jigsaw puzzle as he describes their varied interaction with the land and the Tibetan people. By utilizing a fluctuating narrative structure, Ma Yuan is able to explore a variety of different personal relationships through the lens of different characters and himself as author.
Rather than focusing on the group, The Master which is the second story in this volume, looks at the individual. The author/narrator participates in the story of a Chinese artist in Lhasa who abandons his Chinese girlfriend to marry a Tibetan woman for access to valuable Tibetan paintings. A tale of almost gothic horror and sacrifice, The Master features a plot that is always shifting in time and space and is never what it seems.
Ma Yuan is a professor at Tongji University in Shanghai, China and a pioneer of the Chinese avant-garde novel. His concept of "the snare of narrative" created the conditions from which the idea of form as content emerged in the Chinese novel. It also had an important influence on the development of contemporary Chinese literature. After graduating from the department of Chinese of Liaoning University in 1982, Ma Yuan went to Tibet where he worked as a reporter and editor. He started publishing the same year with The Lure of the Gangdise Mountains, followed by No Sail on the Western Sea, Fabrication and Top and Bottom Are Both Flat.