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On 8/7/2021 at 12:21 PM, murrayjames said:

Today I finished 巴金’s 1932 novel 《雨》. It is the second book in his Love Trilogy. I liked it. It’s deeper, longer, and more psychologically interesting than the first book of the trilogy, 《雾》. Feels like more is at stake. The ending really caught me by surprise — the last ten pages of the book are ridiculous (I mean that in a good way).

Could I trouble you to give me a rough synopsis (no spoilers)?  Wondering if I should add this to my reading list.

 

I am in the middle of reading my fifth-ever novel in Chinese. It is (admittedly) a translation, however -- 《记忆传授人》(Lois Lowry's The Giver). I'm learning a lot of vocabulary, so that's good. I'm also quite impressed with the translator. It's hard to put my finger on -- and I don't think I'm advanced enough to be expected to notice exactly what's up, honestly -- but the translation just flows so much better than any of the books I've read so far. It's been a pleasure to read.

 

The next few books on my reading list are 《秘密花园》, and then my first two native novels, 《这世界却你不可》and 《猫成记》, ranked in order of vocabulary requirement. I'm looking forward to reading those.

 

By the way, I wonder if anyone here has any fantasy or (especially) science fiction recommendations (native literature only)? Here's what I have on my list so far:

  • The collected works of 刘慈欣
  • 星云Ⅴ:格兰格尔5号 (by 吴弼川)
  • 蝴蝶风暴 (by 江南)
  • 人之彼岸(by 郝景芳)
  • 火星孤儿 (by 刘洋)

I'm getting the impression that science fiction as such is pretty rare in Chinese. And I don't have anything "fantasy" in my list that isn't either 武侠, 仙侠, or some form of historical fiction. So any recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

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6 hours ago, 黄有光 said:

I'm getting the impression that science fiction as such is pretty rare in Chinese.

It's growing fast. In addition to the authors you already mention, you can look into 陈秋帆 and 夏笳. For more ideas you can take a look at whatever Ken Liu is or has been translating and read that in Chinese.

 

6 hours ago, 黄有光 said:

And I don't have anything "fantasy" in my list that isn't either 武侠, 仙侠, or some form of historical fiction.

But isn't that pretty much the nature of fantasy? That it takes place in a historical setting, either real or loosely based on read history, and is rooted in the historical traditions and myths of the place and time it's based on? This is what I like about 武侠 and 仙侠: it's as strongly rooted in Chinese history and culture as Tolkien is in English history and culture, or the Witcher in mainland European history and culture. You cannot really put Merlin or Gandalf in a Chinese setting and expect him to function, just as you can't really have a 仙侠 story in a setting with knights and castles. (Insert huge grain of salt here, because I've read all of one 仙侠 book and am basing this entire theory on that one book and what I know about 武侠 and the history of the genre.)

 

The Chinese-Western crossover fantasy I know of is written in English. Ken Liu does Chinese-American fantasy, and Zen Cho also writes fantasy with Asian influences (and like Ken Liu she writes in English). I actually have no idea whether something like this is written from the Chinese end as well.

 

I've heard 马伯庸 writes Chinese fantasy, about the 三国时代 I think, although I haven't read anything by him yet.

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1 minute ago, Lu said:

But isn't that pretty much the nature of fantasy? That it takes place in a historical setting

Well there are plenty of fantasy books that take place in a modern setting (The Wizard Heir) or that take place in an invented (non-historical) world (a la The Edge Chronicles). I asked about fantasy the way I did because the kinds of fantasy you mention seem to be all over the place, so I don't have much trouble finding them, but other kinds of fantasy seem to be much more difficult to find (or I just don't know where to look). So I guess you could say I'm trying to cast my net as wide as possible.

 

Thanks for the recommendations!  I will be checking them out for sure.

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19 hours ago, 黄有光 said:

Could I trouble you to give me a rough synopsis (no spoilers)?  Wondering if I should add this to my reading list.

 

Yes.

 

Ba Jin’s love trilogy is set in China in the early 1930s. The main characters are (1) male revolutionary writers; and (2) the petite bourgeois and revolutionary women who they fall—and try not to fall—in love with.

 

The first book in the trilogy, 《雾》, is the love story of an indecisive writer named 周如水 and a young petty bourgeois woman named 张若兰. The book is mostly about their romance. It also contains many conversations about love and other topics between 周如水 and his friends.

 

The second book, 《雨》, contains a few different love stories. The main character is 吴仁民, who was married in the previous novel, but is a widower and cynical alcoholic in this one. Eventually, love comes calling for 吴仁民 again… The feckless 周如水 is back with a new love interest. There’s the prolific but sickly writer 陈真, who has sworn off love altogether.

 

Themes explored in these novels include love and its effects on human psychology; changing attitudes toward love and romance in early 20th-century China; romantic desire and patriotic duty; and female agency.

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Hi everybody.
I recently finished "Secret China" from Egon Erwin Kisch, which I really enjoyed and would like to share.

 

tl;dr: It's travel reportages from 1932

 

Links:
German  German  French Chinese

 

The author:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egon_Kisch

 

The setting:
In 1932 Kisch travelled to China and described his experiences in about 25 Episodes, containing

  • child labour in factories
  • the funeral of a criminal
  • a lunatic asylum
  • an old people's home fo eunuchs

He talked with arms dealers, prostitutes, rikscha kulis, eunuchs, merchants and almost everybody else.

 

Recommendations:
The charme of the texts (apart from describing a world which is not so far away yet gone for ever) is the strong tension between the eloquent writing style and described topics.

The auther has a bourgeois well educated backgrund which is reflected in his sophisticated, witty, sometimes highly sarcastic language. 
So, I would recommend a good, well tempered, not too cheap red wine to go with it.

On the other hand he was a communist with a big heart beating on the left side and a strong sense of justice.
So, as background music, if "the internationale" or some Kurt Weill is too strong for you, Prokofiew would match perfectly. ;-)

Enjoy.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I've just finished Yuan Tengfei's book on American history (from the colonial era to World War II), which was a part of his "World History is Very Interesting" series. It was a fairly dense 300 pages, and I've had to acquire 531 new vocabulary words. So I'm still firmly planted in the range of "1-2 unknown words on each page." My SRS flashcard collection has passed the 17,500 mark. Yuan definitely loves to use as many chengyu as possible! In terms of style and grammar, however, the book was very reader-friendly and smooth. In order to promote continuity in reading, I didn't immediately stop to look up words in the dictionary, but just drew a box around unknown words/phrases with a pencil and came back later. The remarkable thing, I think, is that even without looking up those words, I could still understand almost everything, and maybe 85-90% of the time, even when I didn't know the exact meaning of a word, my rough idea of what it might mean proved to be mostly correct. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I'm still tethered to my dictionary when reading.

 

I was interested in knowing what Yuan's perspective on the USA might be (this book was written before the most recent conflicts and the 贸易战 between the two countries). The tone surprised me--at times, it sounds like something that a very patriotic American would write, elevating the many things he admires. At the same time, he tries to acknowledge some of the things that weren't so good. Overall, it was very similar to the narratives I heard in school while growing up here in the US, with some exceptions--there are a couple of places that put more emphasis on things that are somewhat more relevant to China (especially the US and Japan conflict).

 

While it hits on all the key points of US history, it's really written for a popular (not academic) audience, showing people that history can be "fun." So it reads like a series of narrative tales. An entire section of the book was dedicated to "Emperor Joshua Norton," a disgraced businessman who bankrupted himself while trying to corner the market on rice at a time when it was scarce (during the time of the Chinese rice famine). After reading American law, Norton determined that there was technically no law that forbade him from declaring himself "emperor of the United States," and so he did that. He demanded that the government should dissolve and come to him to await his imperial orders. Everybody laughed at him, and he became a local celebrity in San Francisco. He was also known for defending Chinese immigrants from racist violence (and maybe that's why he's featured so prominently in this book). Certainly, this episode is not commonly taught in US schools, and the vast majority of us don't know who Emperor Norton was. But it gets a lot of attention in Yuan's book. Again, it's more popular and fun than academic.

Because this book dealt a lot with Western names for places and people, the Chinese phonetic spelling became a real challenge at times. I don't know how many people in this forum are aware of the game "Mad Gab," but it reminds me powerfully of that game. I try to sound out the characters and think about what it might mean. "Hmmm....里士满。 里士满。 Li shi man....li....shi....man......OH. Richmond? Richmond Virginia???" So many moments like that. I wonder what determines the proper way to "spell" those sorts of things in Chinese? If there a government bureau? Does the press/newspaper/TV set the standard? Do the spellings memetically pass through the population until one spelling prevails over the others? That might be a good question for another thread!

Next book (#12 overall): San Mao's 撒哈拉的故事! Seems like it will be a good book. I can just feel it.

 

 

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2 hours ago, Woodford said:

Next book (#12 overall): San Mao's 撒哈拉的故事! Seems like it will be a good book. I can just feel it.

It is good! And Sanmao is a legend.

 

If you happen to read the recent edition, 《撒哈拉岁月》, watch out for the story 亲爱的婆婆大人. You'll be reading along at a nice clip when you suddenly run into this one, which is suddenly much harder than the rest of the book. After that story, it gets easier again.

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1 hour ago, Lu said:

If you happen to read the recent edition, 《撒哈拉岁月》, watch out for the story 亲爱的婆婆大人.

 

I took a look at the conversation you were having with @PerpetualChange, and now I'm a bit confused! His edition does seem to be a part of a series called "Echo Legend," and it's book #3 (I think). My book has very similar artwork on the cover, but it says, "Echo Legend #2" and has a different title (just 撒哈拉的故事 and not 撒哈拉岁月). It lacks any mention of 亲爱的婆婆大人 in the table of contents, and overall, it's between 250-300 pages. I'm not sure how this book series is designed! It seems like random compilations of different San Mao stories, spread across several books in no particular order? Ha! It does look like I narrowly escaped disaster, and I won't have to struggle through 亲爱的婆婆大人, after all. :) The wounds I received from Yang Jiang's autobiography haven't quite healed yet!

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The original 《撒哈拉的故事》 has a set selection of stories (I can find them somewhere, might do so later) and has been republished many, many times, with that selection, perhaps with a few additional letters or such. A few years ago, Sanmao's entire (I think) body of work was republished in a slightly reshuffled set of books. 《撒哈拉岁月》 contains all the stories from 《撒哈拉的故事》, plus a few extra stories that take place during the same period that were originally published in other collections. One of these stories is 亲爱的婆婆大人. I hope this clears things up a bit! And enjoy 《撒哈拉的故事》!

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As of this week I am starting 《秘密花园》. I am particularly excited about this book because it was one of the first things I read. Way back when I was doing graded readers -- several years ago now -- I read Mandarin Companion's version of The Secret Garden. I loved the story! It was so sweet. Now, I get to read the unabridged original, albeit in translation. This one should take me less than a month to go through.

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22 hours ago, Woodford said:

Next book (#12 overall): San Mao's 撒哈拉的故事! Seems like it will be a good book. I can just feel it.

Ah we just started reading this book. My teacher suggested that we read this book together as it's one of her favourite books when she was young. We've only read a few pages so far but it's quite funny. 

 

I'm also reading 《我的阿勒泰》at the moment, recommended by my other teacher. It's about the author's life growing up in Xinjiang. It's really funny too. I'm a few chapters in with this one, each chapter is about a specific topic or funny experience of everyday life in Xinjiang.

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18 minutes ago, amytheorangutan said:

We've only read a few pages so far but it's quite funny. 

I started reading today. Not sure if my edition has the same sequence as yours, but I just read a story about how San Mao would tease her husband by making up stories about the ingredients used in the food she cooked, and her husband would gullibly believe her. It was actually a little tough for me to understand at times, and I'm still not sure if I adequately followed what was going on 100%. Then I started reading the story about her chaotic marriage process, which is much easier for me to understand. I hear that this is an "easier" book, but it still brings its own challenges, it seems!

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10 minutes ago, Woodford said:

I hear that this is an "easier" book, but it still brings its own challenges

 

 I remember this book being, more than most, way easier once I'd got into it. Not sure if the writer has a particularly idiosyncratic style, or maybe because it was a newish genre to me, somewhere between reporting and fiction. Or just that reading at length about somewhere definitely not Chinese, but in Chinese, was initially a bit disorientating for me.

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56 minutes ago, Woodford said:

I started reading today. Not sure if my edition has the same sequence as yours, but I just read a story about how San Mao would tease her husband by making up stories about the ingredients used in the food she cooked, and her husband would gullibly believe her. It was actually a little tough for me to understand at times, and I'm still not sure if I adequately followed what was going on 100%.

Yes, I also started with this story. He thought nori was carbon paper and ate her pork jerky that was hidden under her blanket 😄 I also find it quite hard but my teacher explained it to me as we go along. I hope the other chapters would a be a bit easier.

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2 hours ago, amytheorangutan said:

He thought nori was carbon paper and ate her pork jerky that was hidden under her blanket

 

I think that's part of why I found the first chapter a little bewildering! A list of obscure food items/ingredients/dishes, witty banter between wife and husband, and then....nori? Carbon paper? Dried pork under a blanket? What??? Am I reading that correctly?

The next story, though, is quite easy to understand, and hilarious. Especially her husband's special "wedding gift" that he gave her, and her happiness in having a man who truly understands her.

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I just started reading 城南旧事 last week, it’s my fourth book overall and I quite enjoy it. And after looking up the most important cultural vocab (炕 etc.), the novel paints a lovely and vivid picture of 1920s hutong life and Beijing of that time for me. :x   It’s much easier than I expected and I picked it over 活着 as it was more accessible to me. Last night I finished the third chapter of the first story. 
 

Man, I really don’t know what took me so long to start reading novels in Chinese. Should have started at least three years earlier. :oops: The only things that I do read regularly are news, political stuff and scientific papers in Chinese. In 2014 I was an avid reader of 侦探柯南 (Detective Conan/Case Closed), that took away my fear of reading and taught me all the possible ways to kill somebody in Mandarin lol, but I never really made the jump to reading long form material. At that time I also started reading a short story collection called 你好,有故事的人 which was really challenging despite being written in rather colloquial Chinese; and I only came around finishing it last year.  After that I read a bilingual version of a Sherlock Holmes novel intended for Chinese middle school pupils learning English, I just read the Chinese version instead hehe. And then I also did read Harry Potter 1, but skipped past most of the chengyu and unknown words.

 

I abandoned the approach of learning vocab beforehand after two failed attempts of studying the 300 most common unknown words from 活着 and 莎菲女士的日记 sorted by first appearance. For 活着 there was just too much to study before even reading the first chapter (I like really dislike to only read a couple of pages each time and then wait until I have finished studying enough new vocab). And 莎菲 was just plain boring for me, I really didn’t click with it after already reading 20 or so pages. 
 

Regarding non-fiction: I am looking for a recommendation for the founding period of the CCP and the Long March. After coming across the party’s somewhat obscure list of questions regarding “historical nihilism” I realised I don’t know any of the people in question (Hu Qiaomu, Deng Yingchao, Five Heroes of Langya Mountain etc.) except for Lei Feng. :oops:

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三體 has shifted from being a mostly enjoyable read to a thoroughly bad experience in the last couple chapters. The author really ramps up the jargon and junk science, and it's really hard to ever be certain you have a grip on the plot when some of the stuff going on is very theoretical anyway. I loathe the chapters in three body world so much here at the end that it makes me want to tear the book up lol

 

The flip side is I was worried the whole thing was going to be like this so the fact that the first 280 pages were mostly manageable was better than I expected. But I didn't expect this Marathon at the end. I've been reading it for almost 3 months now, I've got 20 pages to go, and I regret it. Might just drop it and call it there. Would be a shame, though.  

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17 hours ago, PerpetualChange said:

I've got 20 pages to go, and I regret it.

 

😁 this reminded me of the best book review I've seen, it was on Amazon, it simply said:

" I wish I could unread it. "

 

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18 hours ago, PerpetualChange said:

The author really ramps up the jargon and junk science

 

I seem to remember there was a pretty rough section where the 三体人 were "unfolding" a proton (whatever that means) in order to build a 智子. That was, by far, the most confusing and disorienting part for me. I had to listen to the English audiobook to make sure I actually understood it. And "junk science" is right. I've read some reviews of the book by scientific professionals, and they say that Liu is really stretching the idea of "quantum entanglement" past its breaking point. I just suspended my disbelief and kept reading, though it could get hard at times! I think there's a sort of difficult balance in Sci-Fi literature. It is fiction, after all, but it also has to be at least somewhat faithful to the science.

 

1 hour ago, Luxi said:

😁 this reminded me of the best book review I've seen, it was on Amazon, it simply said:

" I wish I could unread it. "

 

That would be a good thread topic: Which book would you must like to "unread?" :) 

I think my least favorite Chinese book so far (maybe my least favorite book in any language) is 解密 by 麦家. I was excited to read it, because, much like Liu's books, it got an English translation, international attention, positive reviews in magazines, endorsements by famous people, etc. It looked like some sort of spy/thriller/mystery novel, and it was marketed as such. It was my 6th Chinese book ever, and I felt like my reading skills were getting stronger. Within the first few pages, I met with a gigantic tsunami-sized wall of unknown words. When I finally finished the tedious task of looking them all up in Pleco, I realized I still couldn't understand much of the story. Toward the middle of the book, the reading got easier, but I discovered that there was zero plot. The whole thing is focused on how brilliant and good at math the main character is, with tons and tons and tons of overdone metaphors. "It was as though he were flying through the clouds, and the clouds had long forgotten him, and he was floating in the sky, but there was no earth beneath him. He was like a dolphin swimming freely through the seas, a master among the whales, passing through the abyss of mystery.

He was like a tower in the midst of a walled city, closed off from the boundless fields...

...like a lightning bolt, fierce and penetrating...

...like a stately bumble bee....

...like a penguin dancing on a walrus's back...."

 

Okay, I'm exaggerating. But not much! Most people, being smarter than me, would have just put the book down and read something else. But...I'm somehow willing to subject myself to such torture.

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