Friday 23 September 2016

500 words from Arthur Meursault

500 words from…is an occasional series in which authors discuss their newly published books. Here Arthur Meursault, a long-term Asia expat, talks about Party Members, which satirises the contemporary Chinese attitude that to get rich is glorious, no matter who gets hurt in the process.

Deep within the heart of China, far from the glamour of Shanghai and Beijing, lies the every-city of Huaishi. This worker’s paradise of smog and concrete is home to Party Member Yang Wei, a mediocre man in a mediocre job. His life of bureaucratic monotony is shattered by an encounter with the advanced consumer goods he has long been deprived of. Aided by the cynical and malicious advice of an unlikely mentor, Yang Wei embarks on a journey of greed, corruption, and murder that takes him to the diseased underbelly of Chinese society. 

So, over to Arthur…

There's a lot of books out there regarding China. Nearly everybody who sets foot on that Communist soil or even lifts a chopstick considers penning a book about their crazy adventures trying to find a working toilet in Gansu province or writing a blog about the "Ah-May-Zing" dumplings they found in Beijing. However, there are relatively few novels written by Westerners set in China that feature an all-Chinese cast and that are not written through the eyes of native protagonists. I wanted to change that.

I also wanted to present what I see as some fundamental truths about the corruption, greed and materialism of modern-day China - especially that emanating from its ruling Communist Party. These are the truths that you won't find written by journalists who get chauffeur-driven around Beijing and Shanghai for their Economist or New York Times articles. The types of scenarios I feature in Party Members are common-place to anybody who has spent time beyond the tier-1 or tier-2 cities of the eastern seaboard. Nothing is exaggerated, though readers unfamiliar with that side of China will believe it is.

Party Members is essentially a dark comic fantasy. It describes the life of a lowly party official in a nondescript city and his struggle to reach the top of the greasy bureaucratic ladder. The book is dark - very dark - though I tried hard to alleviate the darkness with a constant thread of humour, much of it dirty, and absurdity.

One reviewer on Amazon summarised the book much better than I ever could: "If you ever wondered how Kafka's The Castle would read if narrated from the point of view of its bureaucrats, or how much ass-kissing O'Brien had to do to obtain his position in Room 101, and would love to read a book about that, written in a Pynchon-esque, absurdist style, then this is the one for you."

My hope is that I have written an honest, truthful, funny and, above all, unique book that will bring a smile of familiarity to the "Old China Hand" and new insights to Asia aficionados everywhere.

Details: Party Members is published by Camphor Press, available in paperback and eBook, priced in local currencies.