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imron

BOTM March 2008 《围城》by 钱钟书

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imron

I've just started on Chapter 5, where Fang and Zhao and the 3 others have set out by boat to the university where they'll be working.

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Sam Addington

Still back on Chapter 1, the night before they land in Hong Kong. Only have a page left, but can only read so much at a time. Still enjoying the leisurely pace, slowly savoring each episode. I think the author does a good job of drawing out the tensions between people. Really enjoyed the episode at the Western restaurant in Saigon. I still think I may have missed bits and pieces (trying to spend less time in the dictionary) but for the most part I am getting it. Not quite sure where the 3 hairpins in Fang's cabin came from, but I don't know if I will go back and re-read. My English translation should arrive at the bookstore soon.

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gato
Not quite sure where the 3 hairpins in Fang's cabin came from,

It's from that girl he was eating with.

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Sam Addington

Yeah, but how did he get them?

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roddy

Sounds like you might have missed a rather important event, although it's only hinted at rather than made explicit. Reread the couple of paragraphs where they're in Saigon (西贡), from "从那天起,方鸿渐饭也常在三等吃。"

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Sam Addington

As far as I can tell she never came into his room. He heard her steps, he opened the door, he smelled her perfume. I guess I will have to read it again. The only thing I could guess was that he took them when they were out on deck late at night.

Maybe I have an edited version ....

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Sam Addington

Ah, I suppose 吃 is the key?

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Sam Addington

I had the impression that he was rather the bumbling idiot. When she dropped the hint the blood rushed to his face, the lightening struck at his heart, but that was the long and the short of it.

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imron
As far as I can tell she never came into his room
It was never mentioned explicitly, but the fact that 3 of her hairpins were found in his bed should make it pretty clear what happened.

Anyway, reading more today, I came across my favourite quote so far:

骂来骂去,只有一个意思:汽车夫愿意跟汽车的母亲和祖母发生肉体恋爱。
Hahahaha it's great to see that bus drivers haven't changed in the last 60 odd years.

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Sam Addington

The bus quote was indeed hilarious.

Well, I picked up the English translation today and as I read it in English it was quite obvious that not only did Fang sleep with Miss Bao, but that she was the aggressor. I guess it is too easy for me to skew the text when I am reading in Chinese. Although I know the words 不再疑感(he was no longer in doubt) they didn't sink in while I was reading. I did not know the word 按捺(an-na;restrain) so yet another layer was lost. He could no longer restrain himself. 快活的要大叫 - he was so happy he could shout. I saw fast and life and did not see happy. Now I see it clearly. Then finally instead of understanding "The first thing that met his nose when he opened the door was Miss Bao's perfume" I somehow construed "All that remained was her perfume." It all adds up to equal total lack of understanding. The paragraph following makes it even clearer as he lay contentedly in bed the next morning having slept fully and happily.

You were kind to say that it wasn't explicit. You couldn't really get more explicit. It was the classic Hollywood cut-away.

I also enjoyed the exchange between father and son (the letters) much more in English even though I made an effort to read that part of the text twice.

I will continue reading in Chinese, but I will probably resort to the English much sooner now that I have the translation in my possession. I also am reading 灵山in the same manner, though I haven't picked it up in about a year. I think it took me about two years to get to Chapter 19 in that book. But it is always an adventure and a half.

By the way, in his preface to the English version, Jonathan Spence says that the description of the dissolution of Fang's marriage toward the end of the book is one of the best written in ANY language.

I am very happy indeed to have found this forum.

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Sam Addington

I have been very disappointed to see no further discussion in this thread. I wonder how many people have actually been reading this novel and what the general assessment is(beyond none of the characters being likeable).

I read all of Chapter 2 in English only. I felt that the novel fell apart artistically. I agree that the author is not at all sympathetic with his characters and that his main character is so dispicable that I really don't care to read any further about him.

The reason I say the novel fell apart artistically is that it went from a very slow-paced detailed narrative to a very patchy broad-stroked narrative. Too many important events (the dislocation of the hero's family for example) were brushed over very callously. But it seems that the hero is more focused on buying fur coats than in the human dramas that are unfolding.

I have yet to determine what the thesis of this novel is. Is the author trying to say something of import about the state of the nation? What exactly is he saying? I suppose I will read on, but I am really quite put off at this point. I would appreciate any input the rest of you might have. At this point I can only conclude that it is not a very good novel. That is a pretty rough indictment of a novel that is supposed to be the best its era has to offer.

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gato

Don't give up, Sam. I think you still have the potential of getting something out of this book. I am on page 177 out of 335 and still plan on finishing it. I thought chapters 2-4 were quite good. I think you'll enjoy them if you read on. A lot more of the dalliances that you enjoyed in Chapter 1.

Chapter 5 about their cross-country trek, on the other hand, is a deadly bore, and I would recommend that you skip it or quickly skim over it in the English translation. I'm just at about the end of Chapter 5, and I can't wait for it to finish.

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gougou

After work got busy some days back, I didn't have much time for reading (OK, maybe also because I started yet another book in the meantime :oops:). I'm still planning to read it, though, so I'd be happy about anybody who goes past the March 31 deadline!

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roddy

I finished it over the weekend. I found some aspects of it annoying - there's a pretty major plot development that you'd expect to be covered in detail, which actually just happens between chapters and is presented as a fait accompli, things that Fang has done near the start at the book are simply forgotten and have no bearing on the ending, and the final chapter is . . . well, it's depressing.

It was fun to read and there are passages that are very funny and memorable, but I didn't feel it all gelled together as a book, I guess.

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gato
I have yet to determine what the thesis of this novel is. Is the author trying to say something of import about the state of the nation? What exactly is he saying?

As mentioned in an earlier post above, this book is most like a comedy of manners (like Evelyn Waugh or Moliere's Tartuffe), a commentary on certain people (overseas returnees, intellectual pretenders, etc.) in a certain time.

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imron

I'm still reading it, but haven't got much further from when I last posted. I'm not going to finish it by the deadline, so this is going to be book of the month and a bit for me.

I read all of Chapter 2 in English only. I felt that the novel fell apart artistically.
I disagree. Chapter 2 is where it all started to find its feet, it's just that the artistry isn't in describing the scenery and the situation, but rather in the way the author is commenting and caricaturing on the lifes of this type of person.
Too many important events (the dislocation of the hero's family for example) were brushed over very callously. But it seems that the hero is more focused on buying fur coats than in the human dramas that are unfolding.

But that's it precisely. This isn't a narrative story about the situation at the time, but rather a condemnation of sorts of people like the main character. The fact that you come away with such strong feelings shows that the author hit his mark.

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Sam Addington

Thank you for your encouragement Gato. I certainly needed it and will continue to read. However, I have been stuck on the first paragraph of Chapter 3 for days now. I guess I just needed some time to let it sink in. First of all, there were words in the first sentence that just weren't sinking in: namely, 枉 and 併. The translation I am using translated 枉死者 as "die in vain." I decided "people whose lives were cut short" might be nicer. It literally means "wrongful deaths." Then today I decided to read the online version. I found this

也许因为战事中死人太多了,枉死者没消磨掉的生命力都迸作春天的生意。

Here the word 迸 replaces 併. All this is further complicated by the fact that 併 is simplified 并 in the PRC. I had just about accepted that "the souls of the dead had merged with the vitality of spring" when it seems that maybe they "burst forth into spring." I also gained new insight into 生意 which I had always thought of as strictly business. I like the idea that rather than conducting business, we are actually vitalizing everything.

Well, this slow pace will never do. :wink:

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studentyoung
I agree that the author is not at all sympathetic with his characters and that his main character is so dispicable that I really don't care to read any further about him.

Hehe. In such a way, you know another kind of man and another kind of life. Isn’t it quite meaningful? He looks far from good, while still far from bad. He looks quite fit for the doctrine of the mean中庸之道, but he is lack of relative ability and belief to practice this doctrine well. He is lack of ability to make himself a name as a hero, while he has a correct self-assessment (有自知知明) and clearly understands how cruel the social conditions he is in. That’s why his situation looks so embarrassing. (There is a very deep meaning in it. 此中自有深意。)

Is the author trying to say something of import about the state of the nation? What exactly is he saying?

What the author is saying is more complicated than the state of the nation. Hehe. In this book, he shows all kind of conflicts, such as west culture vs. oriental culture, Chinese traditional culture vs. China’s society reality at that time, a man’s illusion on love and marriage vs. the cruel social conditions, man vs woman, love vs marriage, etc. All these conflicts are knitted into a net, which makes a lot of people get caught in it. C'est la vie! (Joking! ) Hehe.:wink:

Cheers!

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Sam Addington

Excellent posting Studentyoung. You have given me many things to ponder. I will print your posting out and insert it into my book.

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