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skylee
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On 2/9/2022 at 7:13 AM, Moshen said:

I am a big fan of Haruki Murakami and have recently read a few other Japanese authors I liked.

 

Me too! I was very excited to see that many of his books were easy to find in Chinese versions. Yukito Ayatsuji also has a long series of detective novels that are pretty widely available in Chinese.

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Ha, happy coincidence.  I'm a big detractor of Murakami Haruki.  Mainly because he was the favorite of a suitor of a friend of mine whom I secretly had a crush on lol.  Murakami has been known to be the choice of Chinese petit bourgeois aspirants, the types, you know, who bring a book to Starbucks, or to a bar for that matter, to impress.  He's the most widely translated Japanese author, because he's been catering to Western tastes his entire career.  Notice how every piece of song or music in his books, the ones that flow from the radio when someone casually turns it on in a drugstore, must invariably have a katakana (id est, Western) name (count yerself lucky if it's without a numeral).  Heck, a whole book was named after a Beatles song (whose title ironically epitomizes petit bourgeois affectation and is a mistranslation both in Japanese and Chinese, by the way).  It's as if every pore of his being is shouting, "Look how westernized (read: civilized) I am!"  Apropos, he also fits the "Japanese people can't speak Engrish" stereotype.  So imagine the glee when I found out the English translator rewrote the *English* dialogue his protagonist had with a Lufthansa stewardess at the beginning of, yeah, You-know-which-book-I'm-talkin-about.  O, the joy I feel, every time I hear he's been passed over, AGAIN, for Nobel Prize.  It's the kind of news that restores one's faith in humanity, you know.

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Finally finished with 穆斯林的葬礼. It was a long one (615 pages), and more difficult than I anticipated. It's my 20th Chinese book overall, and I had to learn almost 1,000 new vocabulary words. Originally, I planned on reading the physical book only (which has been my habit for the previous dozen books), but I resorted to the Pleco reader tool--way more efficient in terms of time. Unfortunately, even though the book is a "classic" that has sold over 4 million copies, it doesn't seem to be available on the Weixin Dushu platform (not sure why). So I had to download a text file with a considerable amount of typos and omissions. At one point, I discovered the text file skipped about 6 pages of vital content, and I had to go back and read it in the physical book. Then I found that same content transplanted into a later part of the text file, where it shouldn't be (and then again, at a later point). What a mess! But I managed to get the whole story, I suppose.

 

The book is about a Hui family that's engaged in the trade of jade carving. The manner in which the story is told feels really innovative, because the plot keeps skipping back and forth between two generations. In the later generation, some people are the same (except older), some people are new, and some people are gone. And it presents you with a sort of mystery. "What happened to that person? Where did this person come from?" The author slowly pieces together the big picture and fills in gaps. Generally speaking, the story is about an orphan boy, Han Ziqi, who is on a Muslim pilgrimage with an older guardian figure. They ultimately lodge at the compound of this Hui family, and Han Ziqi accidentally smashes a precious jade item. The host is gracious and forgiving, but Han Ziqi offers to abandon his pilgrimage and help him out as an apprentice. He marries into the family and guides it through good times and bad times. His daughter, Xin Yue, becomes the focal point of the story as she seeks to fulfill her aspiration of studying English at Beijing University, where she develops a deep relationship with her male mentor, Chu Yanchao (who, to complicate matters, is not a Hui Muslim). There's a rather large cast of supporting characters, subplots, locales, and historical backdrops (World War II, Hitler's bombing of London, the Japanese invasion of China, the Cultural Revolution, etc.). 

It has its challenges. The author loves elaborate descriptions about jade carving, the history of Hui people, the history of China in general, ancient poetry, architecture, art, Hui cuisine, Hui marriage customs, Islamic practices, etc. There are a lot of Arabic words spelled out in Chinese phonetic characters, which was often difficult for me to understand (I know many of them when they're spelled out in the Roman alphabet, but seeing them in Chinese was rather novel to me).

I'm left with a pretty positive impression of the novel. I'd simply say it's "really good." It explores themes of interpersonal conflict, familial love, romance, life's purpose, etc. It has a fair share of tragedy and stark realism--nothing is sugarcoated. It regularly surprises the reader with stunning revelations, while also leaving a lot of loose ends. Admittedly, I sometimes felt a tinge of dissatisfaction, thinking, "That subplot was really interesting! Why couldn't it have continued?" The author weaves together the narrative really purposefully. Some details that initially feel rather inconsequential actually become important later on.

Next up: 生死疲劳 by 莫言. Another big, heavy book. Fortunately, this one IS available digitally on Weixin Dushu, so I won't have to put up with so many 错字!

 

 

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I don't know if books written by the Japanese mystery writer Matsumoto Seicho are available in Chinese translation, but as he's very, very famous and popular in Japan, I think that they must be. His rather short and easy to read 点と線 (Points and Lines) was the first fiction book I read in Japanese. The other things I read were tougher, mostly history books about China, both dynastic histories and military history about the Japanese incursion into Manchuria. Points and Lines is detective fiction, but, it has a lot of fascinating background on classical art forgery. As I remember, it was so easy to read that I really enjoyed it just as a book and as entertainment, not as an achievement. I enjoyed it much more so than the books I was assigned to read in Japanese in school, like one on Song dynasty plantation systems written by a trendy-lefty mayor of Kyoto called Sudo (I think). Japanese China scholars of a certain time had their books printed in prewar Japanese characters and spelling conventions (think 繁体字) to show mere mortals how geeky they were. The only benefit to reading that stuff then is that I'm not too intimidated to try Taiwanese stuff now. 

 

Matsumoto was a prominent member of that generation who espoused a then rather un-Japanese dislike of America and Americans, claiming to prefer the French as his 外人 of choice. But he's justifiably considered (at least by me) to be the dean of Japanese detective fiction. Edogawa Rampo (an early Japanese author's pen name and homage to Edgar Allen Poe) introduced almost all generations of Japanese to mystery and detective stories, but I think Matsumoto brought the genre to maturity in Japan. 

 

What I consider to be Matsumoto's greatest achievement is a book called 砂の器 (Vessels of Sand). This is a much longer book with a much more complicated plot. It has been made and remade into several movies and made-for-TV movies so I think that surely it has been translated into Chinese. I didn't find an English version of the book, but then I didn't have time to give it a good search. This is a book that really, really made an impression on me by virtue of its breadth and depth in expanding an old clichéd plot line.  It's so unique in this regard, that saying any more would spoil it for anyone who wants to give it a go, so I'll shut my big mouth here. The movie versions have been consistently well done, too. If you don't speak good enough Japanese, maybe a version voice-dubbed (not just subtitled) into Chinese is available as an alternative.

 

As to Murakami Haruki, I'm not a fan either. I've only read two books in English, and one, maybe two, short stories in Japanese; I also fail to see what all the fuss is about. But he lived overseas, both for a number of years in a very nice suburb of Boston in America, and for some years in Italy. So his prejudice or favoritism, whichever, is honestly come by. He doesn't seem to like Italy, nor Italians. My wife, like most Japanese, not only professes to like his work, but is inordinately proud of him for being popular overseas. We once were discussing Murakami's disdain for the average Italian's lack of adherence to tight schedules and other presumed cultural discretions, and she was amazed when I pointed out that that was exactly why the rest of the world loved both Italy and the Italians. 

 

Anyway, it's supposed to snow here today, and unlike other parts of the country where the snowfall could rival that of any other place on earth, my big little city seems terrified of the prospect. Gotta go find my red rubber wellies...

 

TBZ

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Murakami has been known to be the choice of Chinese petit bourgeois aspirants, the types, you know, who bring a book to Starbucks, or to a bar for that matter, to impress. 

 

Oh, come on.  I actually read him, not carry his books around.  Do you also throw scorn on fans of Jane Austen?  Do you feel people who genuinely enjoy Shakespeare are showoffs?  I like Murakami for his brooding characters and his metaphysical mind games.

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I mean whether you agree with Publius or not, that was a fine takedown of Murakami. Publius notes his own pettiness about the man way in the beginning, which puts his whole dislike nicely into perspective.

 

I used to love Murakami (I read the sheep chase book way before everyone knew of him, ha) but a few years ago I tried the Wind-up Bird Chronicles and just... stopped not too far in. I don't know if Murakami changed or I did. In the latter case I should have read more of him when I still liked him.

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On 2/10/2022 at 5:29 PM, Moshen said:

Do you also throw scorn on fans of Jane Austen?

Nope, half a fan myself. Love her sense of humor.

 

On 2/10/2022 at 5:29 PM, Moshen said:

Do you feel people who genuinely enjoy Shakespeare are showoffs?

Orly... Shall I compare thee, Murakami-kun, to the English Bard? Nah, I shan't.

 

I just don't like Murakami. My own pettiness aside, there are two things I can put my finger on and say I don't like. One is musical name dropping. Probably isn't as annoying in English as in Japanese, but still. Two is his female characters. They're likeable enough, but all seem cut from the same cloth, especially when read in Japanese. He's a narcissist and a misogynist.

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I just don't like Murakami. My own pettiness aside, there are two things I can put my finger on and say I don't like.

 

Having an opinion is one thing, and perfectly fine as far as I'm concerned, but disparaging people who disagree for being pretentious or snobbish or show-offy is unfair criticism.  I don't enjoy reading sci-fi or fantasy but I wouldn't dream of throwing scorn on those who do.  And I hope there won't be any more of that in this thread.

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On 2/8/2022 at 2:21 AM, Moshen said:

Does anyone have any statistics on the extent to which Chinese people actually read books?

Go to any of the large, multi-storied bookstores. The aisles are full of people reading books as if it’s a library. 
 

I 100% understand preferring to read on a phone on the subway over reading a book. 

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  • 3 weeks later...

Can someone familiar with the work of 曹文轩 recommend a book? I read his short story《埋在雪下的小屋》and while it was challenging really enjoyed it. From this seven-book collection, where would be the best place to start for a low-intermediate reader?

 

1)《草房子》

2)《青铜葵花》

3)《细米》

4)《山羊不吃天堂草》

5)《根鸟》

6)《三角地》

7)《甜橙树》

 

 

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On 2/26/2022 at 3:23 PM, Dr Mack Rettosy said:

1)《草房子》

2)《青铜葵花》

 

I read those two and I liked 草房子 a bit more, but really enjoyed both. I do think the writing is more difficult than for example 余华 though. 

 

Maybe 青铜葵花 is the easier one, I’m not quite sure because I read it later, so of course it’ll feel easier. Maybe try a couple of pages and see how it goes?

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Yesterday I opened a book in Chinese I had on my to be read pile, and I was amazed to find it wasn't too difficult, maybe around 余华 and 三毛 level. I could read ten pages in one sitting. It's 《生于一九八四》by 郝景芳. She's a science fiction writer, her short story 北京折叠 won the Hugo prize, and according to CTA her writing style isn't too complicated, I will definitely try to read her works!

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 2/26/2022 at 3:23 PM, Dr Mack Rettosy said:

Can someone familiar with the work of 曹文轩 recommend a book?

I haven't read much of his work, but I really liked 《草鞋湾》. We did a group read of this book here on the forums, you can join the thread if you decide to read it.

 

I just finished a different children's book, 《面包男孩》 by 李珊珊. 流浪汉 is taken in by baker, who subsequently dies and leaves bakery & home to now-former 流浪汉 (his name is 罗德叔). 罗德叔 accidentally bakes a little boy out of bread, who promply calls him daddy, so now 罗德叔 is suddenly a father. He names the boy 小面包. 小面包 gets up to some small adventures: he and 罗德叔 battle with a big cat that steals their food, 小面包 goes to school... Meanwhile, it's clear that 罗德叔 is not doing well. He drinks too much, he yells at 小面包. It eventually all ends well, of course. I have read very few Chinese children's books, but they pretty much all have been darker than I would expect of a children's book. Not sure if that'a a Chinese thing or if I just don't know enough about recent children's books. This one is for the most part of the 'happy little adventures' type, but there certainly are not-so-happy bits all over, that are mostly not really acknowledged (although they do get resolved). The Chinese is easy, similar to 《草鞋湾》 I'd say. Only one word or so per chapter that made sense to look up; some chengyu here and there.

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On 3/10/2022 at 10:27 PM, Lu said:

but they pretty much all have been darker than I would expect of a children's book. Not sure if that'a a Chinese thing or if I just don't know enough about recent children's books

Most western fairytales are also pretty dark. 

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On 3/13/2022 at 1:38 AM, imron said:

Most western fairytales are also pretty dark.

I guess that's true. Perhaps the difference is in how the dark things are included in the story. Traditionally Western fairy tales often have bad things happening or bad characters doing bad things, and then the hero has to overcome those, which happens, and they live happily etc. In such a scenario, 罗德叔 would be the bad guy and 小面包's journey would be to defeat him (and learn something along the way, perhaps). But 罗德叔 is not the bad guy, 小面包 is very sad when he does leave him. And although 罗德叔 eventually gets to live happily etc as well, he's not really the good guy either. He is just a guy, with his own baggage.

 

Same with 《草鞋湾》: the detective has serious baggage and he is not a very good father. As a result, there is no happy ending for anyone involved. At the same time, he is not the bad guy either.

 

Perhaps the surprising thing is that the eventual main character in both these books is not the plucky kid, but the substance-abusing grown man with the troubled past who is not a very good father figure, and the dark bits are inside of that man, not an outside thing (Big Bad Wolf, Evil Stepmother) to be excised. In my eyes, that is unusual for a children's book.

 

Still, my sample size is just to small to really make a point beyond these two books.

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On 2/9/2022 at 3:53 PM, Publius said:

who bring a book to Starbucks, or to a bar for that matter, to impress

 

Me, but not "to impress", but because I like being around people. 

 

As far as Murakami goes, I've only read one book, Colorless Tsuru Tsaki, and I liked it quite a bit. Tried Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and couldn't get into it at all. 

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finally finished 嫌疑人X的献身。 Took me a while as between the summer holidays and being busy back to work I haven't had a lot of time to read, however the book is not too difficult per se. 

I enjoyed the plot, which is a sort of reverse detective story: you know all the details of the crime since the very beginning, including who is responsible for it, and you work your way through the police investigation to find out whether the cops are going to crack the case or not. 

Entwined with the storyline, there's the rivalry between two math geniuses who of course use their talents to solve the case and hinder the investigation respectively. 

Here and there, a few paragraphs discuss famous mathematical and philosophical problems which are supposed to inspire the actions of these two main characters; I found them a bit hard to read and not particularly interesting but luckily they are few and far apart. For the remaining part, the writing is relatively simple and accessible with plenty of dialogues.

 

The rhythm is a bit slow in my opinion, at least at the beginning: you get pretty much halfway through the book and it feels like not much is happening. (By the way, I find this to be common to many Japanese books, which are often quite "mellow" from my point of view, would you agree?)  Towards the end however things get much more exciting, with major breakthroughs and plot twists culminating in a page-turning ending. I think it took me three months to read the first 75% of the book, and two weeks to finish it. 

 

All in all, I would recommend it and I'd be curious to know if anyone else read it and what's their opinion of it. 

 

 

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

I finally finished with 穆斯林的葬礼. Very cool, but difficult to understand book. When I read books in English, I pay more attention to philosophical books or books that develop critical thinking. At https://edubirdie.com/examples/critical-thinking/ I recently read quite a few articles about critical thinking, its role in development.

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