502,935 Characters to Go
Today I finished reading the novel 《1988：我想和这个世界谈谈》 by 韩寒.
The novel is about the lives of two people: the unnamed male narrator, a john and former journalist driving across China’s National Highway 318; and his passenger 娜娜, a pregnant prostitute looking for someone from her past. The narrative alternates between road chapters and flashback chapters. The road chapters are set in the present. These chapters contain conversations between the two protagonists and focus on 娜娜’s backstory. The flashback chapters are set in the past. They move chronologically through the narrator’s life, beginning with his childhood and jumping forward until they converge with the road chapters at the end of the book.
《1988》 is a funny novel. This is mainly because of the witty dialogue. While reading 《1988》, I frequently smiled and occasionally laughed out loud. Unfortunately, much of the humor comes at the expense of 娜娜, the down-on-her-luck sex worker. At its best, the humor arises through character-driven storytelling. 娜娜 is a quixotic figure, a woman whose life is full of misfortune but who clings to unrealistic and grandiose hopes for her and her unborn child. At its worst, the humor is meanspirited and cheap, consisting of sarcastic quips from the narrator insulting 娜娜’s intelligence.
The plot of 《1988》 is above average; the execution of the plot is unexceptional. While the protagonists’ stories intersect in interesting ways, these intersections would have a greater effect if the storytelling were more patient. The emotional power of the most moving events in the story is undercut by 韩寒’s light, breezy narration and the meanspiritedness noted above. Near the end of the novel, a multi-chapter narrative thread involving a childhood sweetheart is wrapped up in a single paragraph. No doubt this was intentional. But the resolution lacks pathos, as though 韩寒 was not willing to give a personal and moral tragedy the emotional weight it deserved.
《1988：我想和这个世界谈谈》 is not a difficult book to read, vocabulary-wise. I found the language about as easy as 棉棉’s 《熊猫》, perhaps a bit easier. As with 《熊猫》, most of the main text is dialogue. This means fewer low-frequency words, which makes for an easier read.
I chose to read this book after seeing @ouyangjun and @Lu mention it in the evergreen and ever-useful “What are you reading?” thread.
Link to 《1988：我想和这个世界谈谈》:
Characters read this year: 497,065
Characters left to read this year: 502,935
Percent of goal completed: 49.7%
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《1988：我想和这个世界谈谈》 by 韩寒 (81,547 characters)
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