Posts Tagged ‘China’

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.



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¬†positive 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.

Once again, in green

Sunday, 1 August 2010

NaBloPoMo August logoNot convinced I’m going to stick to the NaBloPoMo theme for this August of “Green”, but it might prompt the odd thought here and there, and I do find the challenge helps me to keep up the regular blogging.

18. The Good Women of China by Xinran

Yep, read this this one before too. Its episodic nature (each chapter is pretty much a story in itself, although they do tie together) would appear to make this a good book for dipping into, and yet I pretty much always seem to read the whole thing together. It’s relatively short, of course, and very well written, as well as generally being enthralling, so I suppose that’d do it. I read a couple of the chapters aloud to my DH as I went, this time (talking about the book to him is what made me think to reread it) and that made the emotional pull of these true stories (especially the deep sadness in many) even stronger.

From my recollection, these stories were gathered mostly in the early 1990s, although many of them relate back several decades, and it really becomes apparent how fast Chinese society and governance has changed over those decades, with younger and older women having had completely different lives. (I first read about that phenomenon many years ago in Jung Chang‘s Wild Swans, which I really should reread – and which has a green cover! ūüėČ ) I have to wonder what a new version of this book, compiled a decade or two later, would be like.

Beginning Again

Sunday, 27 July 2008

I’ve just reread the first chapter of¬†Niccolo Rising by Dorothy Dunnett, and since most of my ‘reviews’ of books here are my reactions rather than real explanatory reviews, I am wondering about interspersing those with more of a read-along (even if it is on my own) with points worth noting every chapter or so. I would try to avoid the blatant spoilers, but it might be hard sometimes.

Now you’re going to say, what kind of spoilers can there be in a discussion of the very first chapter of a book, series, double-series? Well, it’s more because this is a reread, and Dunnett is an absolute mistress of foreshadowing, unseen hints, and historical reference, and my thoughts tend to go off to points that won’t seem relevant for those who don’t know the books yet. (Which is all my way of saying to go warily if you don’t, and dislike spoilers. There is one of my normal reviews of another book below.) I amn’t convinced I can actually read it slow enough to do this, so you may hear no more until the end of the book, but we shall see.

Anyway, Venice, Cathay, Seville and the Gold Coast of Africa. The series definitely goes to the first and last of those, and although I don’t recall precisely I’m sure gets close to Seville, but I don’t think it goes to Cathay. I do love Dunnett’s opening lines, however, and could probably identify most of them.

We get introduced to Julius, Felix, Claes, Bishop Kennedy, Katelina, a Florentine, Anselm Adorne, and Simon, and to my amusement, amongst all the action, I noticed for the first time that Claes allows/encourages a dog to do its business all over Simon’s crest.

I got to thinking about just how many characters in the Niccolo and Lymond books have questions raised, for readers, themselves, other characters, or a combination, about their parentage. Mothers, fathers and children very often do not all know each other for certain, or acknowledge each other if they do. Siblings too. Off the top of my head the questioned children are/include: Claes, Lymond, Eloise, Marthe, Kuzum, Khareddin, Henry, Jordan, Anna, Bonne, Julius. I haven’t forgotten the one that is brought into question (question then answered, of course) right at the end of Checkmate, but that really might be a spoiler. As soon as it’s relevant we generally learn that there is a question over the others. Have I missed any?

219. The Bamboo Cradle by Avraham Schwartzbaum

A much quicker reread, this, but also worth getting back to, for its interest and inspirational value. Dr Schwartzbaum writes honestly and interestingly, allowing for the changes in his own opinions and beliefs through the course of his family’s story; this is the deservedly one of the classics of modern Jewish biographies.

Simply put, an American academic couple on a visiting placement to universities in Taiwan, find themselves sudden parents to an abandoned baby, and once back in America find their desire to bring her into their own religion of Judaism brings them fully into it themselves.


Thursday, 17 July 2008

I was out late last night, and didn’t put the computer on once I did get home, so no post and not much crocheting. (I have finished Syd Rabbit’s tummy, but not attached it yet.)

The books I have to discuss have no unifying theme at all, that I can think of. Any suggestions?

206. Great Lives: Mao Zedong by Fiona MacDonald

This is the point where I wonder at the series being entitled “Great Lives”, when the book ends up being pretty negative about Mao as a person and national leader. I suppose they really meant “Influential Lives” or some such. (I’ve only actually so far read this and the¬†Gandhi one I mentioned a couple of days ago, although I know there’s one on Saladdin, among several others. It’ll be interesting to see what judgement is made on him.)

Anyway, Mao is certainly portrayed as influential in his middle and later career, but also egotistical, domineering and murderous. It’s got pictures, quotes, context and dates, and is an interesting read. I have recently read one or two books about modern Chinese life (although not politics/leadership specifically) but nothing really about the country’s history since¬†Wild Swans, well over a decade ago. Another major topic to explore further!

207. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

A great fun novel, with thoughtful characters who have interesting and amusing adventures, without shying away from the darker side of life, even in a country apparently as wonderful as Botswana. I have heard episodes of the radio dramatisation of the series before, but I enjoyed the book more, and look forward to getting to the rest of the series.

208. Reaching the Stars by Ruchoma Shain

Shain writes as well about her own life as about her father’s, although this is a quite different book from All For the Boss. This is much more of an anthology of her memories and those of her many students in different contexts and continents, and of very different ages, as well as tips and thoughts on being an educator and guide to life, as well as the timetabled class. I enjoyed it, but would be far more likely to return to her first book than this one.

Through the day

Thursday, 12 June 2008

I don’t think I’ve mentioned my crochet since the break. I have actually been doing a fair bit (not on Yom Tov, obviously), but I’ve just been working away at the middles of a few long projects (blankets and scarves) that don’t show progress easily, rather than anything I could show off to myself or anyone else.

160. Yikang’s Day: From Dawn to Dusk in a Chinese City by Sungwan So

There’s quite a bit of reading in this little book for primary school children about the daily life of a young Chinese girl. The photographs are big and clear, so it’s probably a good one to read to a developing reader a few times before leaving them to struggle through alone. (The transliterated Chinese – I suspect Mandarin, but they weren’t clear as to which dialect is used in Yikang’s region – isn’t going to be encouraging to someone who has to push themself to recognise English words.)

161. The Essential Alexander Calder by Howard Greenfeld

I am glad I was inspired to read this one sooner rather than later, as Calder‘s art appeals to me in many of its forms. I shall have to look out for his mobiles and stabiles particularly.

Between Worlds

Sunday, 25 May 2008

We’re still moving, rather than fully moved, although hopefully that will progress a lot further over the bank holiday weekend. This theme, of making one’s home under often difficult circumstances (far harder than any we are personally facing, thankfully) and trying to be understood and to understand within specific cultures runs through the three books I finished today and yesterday.

129. The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices by Xinran

Xinran‘s recounting of the lives of a very wide variety of Chinese women is eye-opening and in many cases shocking. Somehow this is not an entirely negative tale, even though most of the women have been deceived, abused, abandoned or simply ignored and devalued by an often brutal regime that mistreated both them and the men who should have supported them. There is a resilience that wins through even the misery in many cases, and even when it can’t, there is a sense that something is being learnt by others, very very slowly. This was written after Xinran came to live in London, in part to teach us in the West more about China.

130. Flambards by K. M. Peyton

One of those classic (if only from the 1960s) children’s books I somehow missed out on. In 1908 twelve year old orphaned Christina goes to live at Flambards, the country estate where the horses get the best that is available, but people can make do, to live with her hunting-obsessed Uncle Russell and his two sons, Mark, who wants nothing more than to live as his father has done, and the younger William, who wants to taste the freedom of the new technologies, particularly aeroplanes.

The coming of the First World War overshadows the household as Christina tries to pick her way through the best of both worlds. This is the first of a series.

131. Lights from Jerusalem: Stories and Perspectives from the Holy City by Sara Yoheved Rigler

Well crafted chapters mix anecdote and Jewish philosophy to show how the author tries to learn from her experiences and suggest how others might do similarly.