Posts Tagged ‘Xue Xinran’

Down the side of the bed

Monday, 16 May 2011
The Speed of Dark

Image via Wikipedia

I read in bed quite a lot. It’s something I’ve always done, and it goes together quite well with a baby who doesn’t like to sleep without a parent next to her. I usually have a few on the go, piled on the top corner of the bed (in a corner of the room) and occasionally one or two fall down the side, from where I fish them out as I realise they’re missing. The bed got jogged out of place this morning, however, and when I went to retrieve the avalanche I realised that there were a few older escapees. To be unnoticed as missing these were ones I hadn’t actually got into, and sometimes hadn’t even started, but had just thought might be interesting. Anyway, I thought I’d list them here, with comments on how I’m getting on with them. (The order is just as they were piled.)

The ones I really wasn’t reading will probably go back on the shelf for now, but renoticing them has got me intrigued by some of them again. Watch this space to see which ones make it to the ‘Read’ lists…

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

Unstarted, although it looks interesting. Looks a bit different from the other science-fiction I’ve been reading of late.

Cover of

Cover of Farewell, My Queen

Farewell, My Queen by Chantal Thomas

About three-quarters of the way through this novel of the last days French royal court in July 1789, and enjoying it quite a lot.

Cover of "The Green Flag: A history of Ir...

Cover via Amazon

The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism by Robert Kee

While this officially covers the history right from the 12th century it really picks up the detail from the mid-17th century. I’m up to the late 18th century, approaching but not yet at the 1798 rebellion.

The Little Girl Book by David Laskin and Kathleen O’Neill

A rather different approach to a parenting book than I’ve come across before, this discusses the complicated issue of bringing up little girls while negotiating the stereotypes and sexism of our societies. The book was published in 1992, so still seeing how it stands up two decades later to my own opinions. Definitely interesting, though.

Cover of "Byzantium Endures"

Cover of Byzantium Endures

Byzantium Endures by Michael Moorcock

The two or three chapters I’ve read of this so far are decidedly odd. I’ll give it more time gradually and hope it grabs my attention. I wasn’t enjoying it all that much, and yet it was somewhat compelling.

Cover of "PEOPLE OF DARKNESS"

Cover of PEOPLE OF DARKNESS

People of Darkness by Tony Hillerman

I got side-tracked from the Hillerman books, but will get back to them. (I’d better, seeing as I ordered the entire set on Bookmooch!) I’d read a chapter or so of this one, but would probably restart from the beginning.

The Sea Wolf by Jack London

I haven’t read any London since I was seven, and read White Fang in one sitting (staying with my grandparents I picked it up off their shelves to sustain me through a long morning meeting of my grandmother’s). I’m still in the introduction here, and I hadn’t realised what a fascinating life the author himself had.

Cover of How I Came West

Cover of How I Came West

How I Came West, and Why I Stayed by Alison Baker

A rather bizarre collection of often fantastical (but always so far set in modern-day USA) stories that I’m enjoying so long as I read each story in a single sitting, as they can be hard to keep track of after a break.

I don’t think I’ve read a collection of stories that was neither from one of the orthodox Jewish publishers nor aimed at children in an absolute age. (These are definitely not for children, although not crude, just for adults.) I’m enjoying the different perspective, and wondering why the general market avoids them so much.

Med Ship by Murray Leinster

I think this is a compilation of a lot of stories and novellas Leinster set in the same universe, but which aren’t always about the same characters, but I’m not far enough in to be sure.

Cover of China WitnessChina Witness by Xinran

More academic in its feel than the other books by Xinran I’ve read, this offers a very broad sweep of 20th century experience in China, as told by the survivors and thrivers of that period, an apparently reticent and now elderly generation. Each chapter, about a different person or small group, is relatively short, and tends to leave me wanting more, but that’s not a bad thing.

Wisdom of the Fox by Harry Turtledove

I don’t know why I haven’t got into this, seeing as I’ve been enjoying Turtledove’s alternate histories so much. I think I wasn’t really in the mood for what appeared to be more classic fantasy. I’ll try again at some point.

Cover of Wild Swans

Cover of Wild Swans

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang

The first book about Chinese history I read. That was as a teenager, shortly after it first came out, and with all the Xinran I’ve been reading I thought I should go back to this one too. I’m picking up on details I certainly hadn’t remembered, partly because I’m older and partly because I do know a bit more about China now and can make more sense of what was going on (not that it’s badly explained in the book, but there’s only so much context a writer can be expected to give). Still looking for other modern writers on the country.

The worth of work

Sunday, 17 April 2011
Cover of "Miss Chopsticks"

Cover of Miss Chopsticks

57. Miss Chopsticks by Xinran

So yes, more Xinran, and unlike the other books of hers I’ve come across, this isn’t the straight retelling of the lives of her interviewees, but the novelisation of three of those lives. The inspirations were from and in different parts of China, while the novel concerns three sisters from a rural village in Anhui who go to the city to seek their fortune, or at least some money to send back to their mother. The unstated (and perhaps hidden even to themselves) dream is to vindicate themselves and her in their being supports to the family, rather than just half of a family of ‘six worthless girls’.

The way their father refers to them is as ‘chopsticks’ – to be used once and thrown away – while he wanted a boy to be a ‘roofbeam’, holding up the family’s honour and financial situation. While that sounds fairly horrific to me, and I suspect most of my readers, the impression is given that he’s relatively┬ápositive about all his daughters, all of whom live at home as part of the family until they marry, die, or move away to work, all as adults, including Four, who’s deaf and dumb. It’s not much, especially considering they don’t even get personal names, being always known by their birth order, but considering all I’ve heard about baby girl abandonment and infanticide in China, it is apparently something. (Neither topic is brought up in the novel, although there is discussion of how the family got so far around the one child policy, but they do come up in the afterword.)

The story is very positive, despite showing us some of the very bad things that could happen to our heroines: all three find a good job where they can shine and develop skills, knowledge, friendships and financial independence on their very first day in Nanjing and they are able to go home on the Spring festival each year and show just how well they’ve done, gaining admiration and vastly increasing not only their own self-confidence and pride in themselves and each other, but also those of their parents. I’m certainly not suggesting that nothing goes wrong, nor that they don’t succeed through a lot of hard work, but this is really about showing us how country girls can get on in the city, despite the vast cultural, technological and educational chasms that separate the two societies. (One character describes the countryside as being 500 years behind the city, and in certain areas she doesn’t appear to be exaggerating.)

Time, love and distance

Thursday, 24 March 2011
Cover of "Sky Burial"

Cover of Sky Burial

Hm, so is this the second or third book of Xinran‘s I’ve read, considering I started China Witness before it, but am still about halfway through that?

30. Sky Burial by Xinran

This book could so easily be a novel, and as a foreigner I wouldn’t know how plausible it then was. I have enough confidence in what I’ve read of Xinran’s work to believe it isn’t, however. What it is, is a fascinating insight into Tibet and China over the past few decades, as well as a lyrical evocation of loving relationships of different kinds. A number of marriages are key, although none of them meet the usual expectations of most of us, whether Shu Wen’s where she and her husband were separated after just 100 days and she slipped into an entirely different life searching for him, Zhuoma’s family and fortunes being turned upside-down and the long mutual search for the man she loved, or the Tibetan family that takes Wen and Zhuoma in of Gela, his brother Ge’er and their wife Saierbo. I think I want to read this again already.

What this book doesn’t try to do is really explain the politics and background of the dispute over Tibet and its status vis-a-vis China, and I feel I do need to learn more about that. It does show a taste of how these issues are perceived by a few of the people on the ground, however.


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