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matteo

Just finished reading 许三观卖血记, my first novel in chinese! such a good feeling, I feel I achieved something. 

I enjoy reading 余华 and read a few of his books even before I got interested in chinese, I appreciate the simplicity of the language and his ability to draw a picture with very few, powerful strokes, therefore I really liked this novel. I was surprised at how easy it was to read and totally recommend it as first reading, it almost feels like a graded reader. 

Now I'm thinking what to read next, i'm considering 消失中的江城 (the Chinese translation of "River Town" by Peter Hessler) or maybe 魔道祖师 (my girlfriend is a fan of The Untamed and she's reading it now and really enjoying it - although it is certainly not high literature).

I have a copy of 活着 but probably two books in a row about hardship in the chinese countryside is a bit too much 😄

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Lu

I finished 《六人晚餐》 by 陆敏 last weekend. Good book.

 

The story takes place in the 1990s-2000s in a factory district in an unspecified city. A widow and a widower get together, they spend the night at his place every Wednesday and both families have dinner together every Saturday. Six chapters, each told around one of the six characters, each in a distinct tone of voice/style: the widow and the widower each have a son and a daughter. Even though the adults break up after two and a half years, the characters keep popping up in one another's life and getting entangled in each other's relationships. The central relationship is between the widower's son and the widow's daughter, and it's kind of a Chinese West Side Story, where class differences drive the two apart. It's a pretty long book and a lot happens. Not a particurly easy read (and Lu Min likes her chengyus) but I enjoyed it. After the end, I half wanted to go back to chapter 1 to see everything that was implied or not said and that I missed on the first read.

 

Now reading this.

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PerpetualChange
On 5/9/2020 at 3:27 AM, matteo said:

i'm considering 消失中的江城 (the Chinese translation of "River Town" by Peter Hessler)

A Chinese friend recommended me read this, might give it a try as well! 

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matteo

Ended up reading 小王子. I wasn't exactly keen to read it but I had this book at home for 2+ years and I was never able to read it, so I figured it was time to give it another try. 

The reason I have this book in the first place is that my partner's mum, as soon as she new that we were learning Chinese, decided to send it to us as a present. 

Obviously, as it is a children's book and she has no idea whatsoever of how bloody complicated Chinese is, she thought that we could read it straight away. In typical mum fashion she kept asking about it at every possible occasion, so much so that it became almost embarrassing. Month after month she would ask " did you read the book?" and we would say "ehr...not yet, still too hard..." till in the end my girlfriend literally had to pretend that she had read it. lol

 

Now I picked it up again and the good news is, it wasn't too hard to read anymore. The bad news, it really wasn't worth the wait in my opinion. 

I get all the enthusiasm about it being all a metaphor and all that, but I find the narrative to be really bland and uneventful.

Although the author's aim is to  use the simple story to hint and make you reflect on important ethical and philosophical themes, as an adult I think I can say that I already met and thought about most of these in more depth elsewhere...so I don't really find it that enlightening. 

 

From the point of view of Chinese learning, I think the book has some strong points and some weak ones.

It is short and hence looks very approachable, moreover chapters themselves are even shorter (sometimes just a page) so it's easy to motivate yourself to read even just a chapter a day. 

The structure of the sentences is in general very simple. 

However, I find the vocabulary to be not super easy and sometimes a bit unusual due to  the fairy tale-like atmosphere. So in my opinion not the best for enriching your vocabulary, at least at a beginner's stage. 

 

In conclusion, I don't think I would recommend it. I think I'll now start on 消失中的江城 , hopefully it is within my reach. I know I like that one cause I read it in english before 😄

 

 

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roddy

My next (Chinese) read is probably going to be 去洞庭 by Zheng Xiaolv, which I saw recommended here while looking for something to fill a JD.com box with. The blurb on the back is very grabby and I liked the couple of pages I read - there's a long extract, which may or may not be exactly the same as the book - it has a different title, but on a brief glance it's the same.

 

汗水顺着脸颊滚落,他下意识地擦了一把,闻到一股浓稠的血腥味道。他断定不是他的血。不是他的,反而更使他慌张

I like that. 

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PerpetualChange

I am REALLY struggling with the back half of 撒哈拉故事 to the extend that it's making me question whether I was ready for the book at all. 

I thought it was supposed to be an easy one, but it is not easy at all for me. Last two stories have been pretty gruesome, even when I've looked up every world I don't know what it means. 

 

First half stories have been in the high 80s/low 90s for me on the CTA, pop in this one and it's 75% with 2000 unique words. What did she write this one with a thesarus on deck or something? Geez....

 

Apparently, the edition I have (called 撒哈拉歲月) is an expanded version from the one most people have read. I'm not sure expanded in which way, but it seems to have at least half a dozen stories the original doesn't (which I am well into now). 

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PerpetualChange

OK, so I figured it out. I am reading a new "Echo Legacy" version of 撒哈拉故事 named 撒哈拉歲月. The Echo Legacy is a new series of San Mao complete works, but kind of resorted to be more thematic and there's also a lot of previously unpublished editions. 

 

For 撒哈拉故事, they used the original work, and then supplemented it 9 additional stories from her time in the Sahara. Many of these come from her later works, and it seems that her style did get a little bit more complicated as she went on (the last story I ready was actually from a book called 稻草人手記 and used way more chengyu than her first.  Many of the next stories are from an even later work 哭泣的駱駝. The funny thing is, later in the series, works people may have been looking for are missing in the original books, because they were pulled forward for this special edition of 撒哈拉故事, but instead the publisher has supplemented those with previously unpublished stories. 

 

I guess I can now say that I "read" 撒哈拉故事, because what I am reading now are additions. I thought about stopping here, but I don't have a next book anyway, so I guess I'll keep going...

 

 

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imron
11 minutes ago, PerpetualChange said:

I don't have a next book anyway,

Start looking now!

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Lu
On 5/23/2020 at 10:49 PM, PerpetualChange said:

I am REALLY struggling with the back half of 撒哈拉故事 to the extend that it's making me question whether I was ready for the book at all.

The thing with Sanmao is that she is pretty easy to read, but she is absolutely capable of pulling out all the chengyu and literary allusions and narritive twists and skips and very occasionally does so. In 《撒哈拉岁月》, she does this in ”亲爱的婆婆大人“. If that is the story you're struggling with, I strongly advise you to just skip it. Move straight to “收魂记” which is easy again.

 

The stories from different books are not all added to the end of the book, they're sprinkled in between. “平沙漠漠夜帶刀“ and ”亲爱的婆婆大人“ are from 《稻草人手记》, “寂地“ is from yet another book, but “沙巴軍曹”, “搭車客”, “哭泣的駱駝” and “啞奴” are from the original 《撒哈拉的故事》 (at least they are in my edition of that book).

 

Having just finished another Sanmao book, I found it interesting to notice her different writing styles. Many of her stories read almost like a letter to home, written in one go at the kitchen table. But in the back of that book there were a few of her actual letters to home and they are much different: very scattered thoughts (much more than in her stories), random complaints, requests to send things. Less organised than my own emails even, and she was a renowned writer! And then there are stories like “亲爱的婆婆大人” and “江洋大盗” (both in my edition of 《稻草人手记》), where it becomes abundantly clear that she doesn't write easy stories because that's all she's capable of. She is very well-read and can write almost impenetrable literature with the best of them.

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PerpetualChange

@LuThank you so much! That is extremely validating as 亲爱的婆婆大人 is the exact story that came bustling at me like a freight train. 

After throwing up my hands, I just decided for competitions sake to read it until the end and not do any word look ups. I was surprised that despite skipping so many chengyu and advanced words, I was still able to follow the basics of the plot.

 

On 5/23/2020 at 11:19 PM, imron said:

Start looking now!

 

Well, I have procured another 巴金 book from his third trilogy, which a poster here said was far easier than the first trilogy. I have the May book of the month coming. And I plugged the first chapter of 流星蝴蝶劍 into the CTA and came up with 85% (before reading through to see if I could mark up any more words as known) so I think I have some ideas for a start!

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roddy
On 5/23/2020 at 8:54 AM, roddy said:

My next (Chinese) read is probably going to be 去洞庭

Read a couple of chapters of this last night and looking forward to getting stuck back in. The events of the first chapter are... not entirely convincing, but make for a compelling premise, and I'm loving the writing. I have no idea how things are going to play out, which is a good sign. Sexual assault in the first chapter, not sure if that's a one off or a repeating theme.

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roddy

Maybe halfway through 去洞庭 and still really enjoying it. It's got a 'one more chapter' drive to it, but I'm trying to take my time over it. Gets very dark at points, but handles it well and doesn't dwell there. I have no idea how things are going to play out. 

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murrayjames

I just finished the novel《草鞋湾》 by 曹文轩. It was Book of the Month for May 2020 [or whenever] and it is excellent. The novel has a dedicated thread accessible via this link.

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PerpetualChange

Finished 撒哈拉歲月, which is basically like 撒哈拉故事 + every other story San Mao wrote about her time in the Sahara later on. 

I really enjoyed the first half, which is the "old edition" of 撒哈拉故事. All the stories were accessible, not quite "light reading" but also not too heavy or difficult. 

 

The back half was more hit and miss. Some of the stories were great (mainly the ones dealing with the Spanish withdrawal from the Sahara - what an interesting period of history), but others were a bit more tedious (I was not a fan of the final story in the collection, where San Mao gets freaked out by monsters). 

 

Part of me does wish I had stuck with the "Old Edition' though. I didn't know what I was getting into with 撒哈拉歲月, honestly, and what was supposed to be a lighter and quicker read wound up taking almost 40 hours over 6 weeks. Also, the stories outside the "Old Version" 撒哈拉故事 were typically longer and a bit more challenging than the others. 

 

But in the end, I did find myself wanting more, so I do consider that a good thing, and I'll look forward to exploring San Mao more in the future (even if Sahala Gushi is the only one I ever hear anyone talking about). 

 

Someone here mentioned not really "liking" San Mao and Jose, which is a thought that stuck with me at first. I did like them, but they grew on me. In some of her earliest characterizations of Jose, San Mao seems to think of herself as a little above him, aside from the fact that he's the only one that doesn't think her ideas are crazy. As the book went on, I came to appreciate San Mao's somewhat stubborn and unfiltered personality, even if she veered toward egotistical occasionally, but I did from time to time found myself questioning Jose's lack of judgment. I think my initial unease with both San Mao and Jose just stems from what unconventional people they are and what an unconventional life they lived. They are not really normal people, so the choices they make and the way they go about doing things often struck me as pretty "foreign". 

 

Anyway, time to start the June/July book, tomorrow. 

I haven't ran it through CTA, but if it's too hard I have multiple backups. 

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Lu
12 hours ago, PerpetualChange said:

(I was not a fan of the final story in the collection, where San Mao gets freaked out by monsters)

Ha, that was one of my favourite stories in the book. It flirts with being a ghost story, but meanwhile what she really does is capture the atmosphere of spending the night camping in the desert with a few friends and acquaintances.

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PerpetualChange
4 hours ago, Lu said:

Ha, that was one of my favourite stories in the book. It flirts with being a ghost story, but meanwhile what she really does is capture the atmosphere of spending the night camping in the desert with a few friends and acquaintances.

I think it may have more been the placement. As the final story in this voluminous collection it seemed a little underwhelming. Given the stories dealing with slavery and the Spanish withdrawal preceding it, I wanted to see more of that, especially how San Mao and Jose wound up dealing with the latter situation. I guess I either missed it, or it's the topic of a later book. Though as I think about it, I guess I did enjoy the story, I just was more curious about other things. In the end it was a nice little break from the heavy stuff of the last few stories, and maybe a nice capstone as a reminder of the type of experiences that drew the characters to life in the Sahara to begin with. 

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Lu

In the Spanish and the Dutch edition (don't know about the English one) the stories about slavery and the Spanish withdrawal were put at the end. I agree with you that that works better.

 

For more about what happens with Sanmao and José after they leave the Western Sahara, you could read 《稻草人手记》, which is pretty much the sequel. Not a lot on the political side of things though, that is not really Sanmao's thing.

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roddy

Finished 去洞庭. Really enjoyed it, at points I was actually stopping so I could make it last longer. Basically you've got a love-triangle and various other characters who get drawn into it, or play bit parts at one remove or another - which might annoy some, you'd think there were only ten people in all of China at points, but didn't bother me. Modern China setting, with brief flashbacks to a decade or two back. You do need to pay attention - you don't always know where or when a chapter is set, and a reveal of who a particular 他/她 is might send you referring back to earlier chapters. It starts dark, gets dark a few times along the way, and by the end... well, won't spoil it for anyone. I did feel at least one of the character arcs isn't quite believable. Anyway, look up-thread for a link to a long extract. If anyone starts reading this, do start a topic for it if you want, I'd happily discuss it a bit more. I could also lend my copy to anyone in the UK who'll send it back when they're done with it - drop me a PM.

 

Next book: 异兽志 is probably most likely, but the 笛安 one that's currently book of the indefinite time period is also a possibility if it gets here in time. I'm going to spend a couple of days getting stuck into a new Spanish thriller though, (Does anyone want to do Spanish books of the indefinite time period? I'm reading mostly thrillers and noir detective stuff - Juan Gomez-Jurado and Juan Madrid exclusively, actually) and then have a look at the shelf and see what I fancy. 

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jannesan

I also just finished 许三观卖血记 and I agree with what @matteo said about it.

However, for me two books in a row about hardship in the Chinese countryside is not too much, so I am now starting 活着 😁

 

Aside from these novels, which I prepare for by studying new words chapter by chapter, I have also started reading some other stuff more casually.

Currently that is 掌控习惯 (Atomic Habits), which is quite boring, and a diary about the Wuhan lockdown by 方方 http://fangfang.blog.caixin.com/), which is interesting but very hard for me.

For these casual reads I only look up words occasionally and only add them to my study queue if I feel they are useful.

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murrayjames

A few days ago I read 《黄健怡校长专访:我的爵士人生》, a long interview with a Shanghainese pianist, jazz music educator, and friend. The article contains the wisdom of a man who has done a great deal for jazz music in China.

 

Today I finished 《吃事三篇》, a collection of three short personal essays by 莫言. The essays are about starvation and highlight the behaviors of people with very little to eat. Mostly the essays are depressing. A “taste”:

 

Quote

那几年里,母亲经常对我们兄弟讲述她的一个梦。她梦到自己在外祖父的坟墓外边见到了外祖父。外祖父说他并没有死去,他只是住在坟墓里而已。母亲问他吃什么,他说:吃棉衣和棉被里的棉絮。吃进去,拉出来;洗一洗,再吃进去;拉出来,再洗一洗……母亲狐疑地问我们:也许棉絮真的能吃?

 

Yeah.

 

I found the vocabulary advanced compared to what I’m used to reading. Been wanting to read 莫言’s novels, but I think I’ll wait until my Chinese improves some more. You can find the text of the 莫言 essays here:

 

http://cnwmw.blogspot.com/2018/03/blog-post_295.html

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