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Book of the Month, April 2009, 巴金's 家


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The number is not relative to you. The number simply states where the person fits in terms of age among the siblings and it doesn't change depending on relation.

If somebody is the second oldest sibling, he would be called either 二哥 or 二弟, depending on whether the person addressing him is older or younger. If he's addressed by somebody else, he might be referred to as 二少爷 or 二师父 or 二表哥 or something else, but it's always 二.

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This might be worth picking up for someone. Although then again in these days of ebooks and annotators . . .

There's also a copy for sale on Ebay UK if anyone wants it. This made me smile:

A lot of pencil notes for the first few pages.

Ah yes, the discipline of the first few pages . . .quickly followed by the 'ah, if I see it often enough I'll learn it anyway' of the next few pages, and then by the giving up on page 15. A story I know all too well . . .

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randal_flagg, there is always the option of downloading the files Shadowdh uploaded, formatting them quickly in a text editor of your choice and taking the result to a printing shop, who are bound to be able to print it for you for an acceptable price.

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Thanks, renzhe. We'll I'm thinking about printing it myself (I've got two laser printers at home, so its going to be cheap!) or using this golden opportunity to really drive home those 繁体字。 After all, I SHOULD know them, right? "If God gives you nothing but lemons, go make some lemonade!"

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I'm about 1/4 of the way through (about 90 pages) and I'm really enjoying it. It has very interesting characters and very vivid descriptions of their daily life in a traditional family. All kinds of people, the rebels, the dreamers, the tyrants, the path-of-least-resistance types, etc. It's very easy to read and remains unpretentious, so it's easy to understand the novel's enduring popularity.

The first few chapters introduce some of the main protagonists, so we get to see the world from several different perspectives. Then the plot starts rolling.

The language is really easy. This is a great book for people looking for a first "real" book to read. There are a couple of words used instead of other words I'm more used to seeing in this context:

罢 for 吧

晓得 for "know" (instead of 知道)

底 for 的

晏 for "late" (instead of 晚)

哪个 for "who" (instead of 谁)

同 for "with" (instead of 跟)

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I wanted to start reading the book today, but I realized that this is the fourth part of the series, so I found another excuse to procrastinate. Will start printing the online version tomorrow, and return the one I have to the library. So much too read, so little time!

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I got a copy and started reading this over the weekend. It's an enjoyable read so far, but I would agree with Ba Jin's own assessment that this is an immature first (long) novel. A more experienced writer might not feel the need to explain as much. Compare with Lu Xun, for example.

I was amused to see the cousin complaining about having to read 《古文观止》at her all-girl school instead of "Treasure Island" taught at the all-boy English school. Little did she know that 《古文观止》 is so much more sophisticated than "Treasure Island" is.

I won't say too much since I just started. But you might be interested in some reviews of the book (mostly positive) on douban.


作者: 巴金

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I still haven't even gotten around to printing it out yet! I have so much to read (emphasis on "have") that I just haven't gotten around to any pleasure reading. Not even the paper! Still hope to get there...

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You can read what Wushijiao thought of the book here when it was the book of the month for November 2005, though it looks like he was the only participant that month. :mrgreen:


Selection for November 家 (Family) by 巴金 (Ba Jin)

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I'm still reading, but I haven't read much this past week.

My observations are pretty much in line with those of wushijiao. I'd say that the naivete and pathos are only partly due to Ba Jin's inexperience and youth. I think that Ba Jin wanted to address young people with his work, and young people are idealistic like that. He himself was motivated by the revolutionary pamphlets of the time and was likely trying to wake up a sleeping generation rather than produce the most mature literary work.

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I picked it up from the library today. I had started another book but it seems a bit too difficult, too many words I don't know. So I think instead I'll get started on Jia.

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After reading about a third, the thing which I was afraid would happen happened. I lost track of who's who.

So I went through the book and put together this family tree. It should be helpful to all those reading the book:

First Generation

高太爷, (unofficially) married to 陈姨太

Second Generation (克 is generation name)

高? (大老爷, died) , married to 周氏 (大太太)

高? (二老爷, died without children)

张太太 (married away)

高克明 (三老爷), married to 张氏 (三太太)

高克安 (四老爷), married to 王氏 (四太太)

高克定 (五老爷), married to 沈氏 (五太太)

Third Generation (觉 for boys, 淑 for girls)

长房 (高?):

一 高觉新 (20-something years old), married to 李瑞珏 (大嫂)

一 高淑蓉 (died)

二 高觉民 (18)

三 高觉慧 (17)

三 高淑华 (14)

张太太 (married away):

X 张蕴华/琴 (18)

三房 (高克明):

二 高淑英 (15)

四 高觉英 (13)

八 高觉人

四房 (高克安):

五 高觉群 (8)

六 高淑芬 (7)

六 高觉世

七 高觉先

七 高淑芳

五房 (高克定):

四 高淑贞 (12)

Keep in mind: The seniority is determined per generation, and separately for boys and girls. All the people in the same generation living in the same household address each other as "ge", "di", "mei", etc, even if they are only cousins. 琴 doesn't live in the same household, so she is the only one addressed as a cousin. That's also why she doesn't count when determining seniority.

In order to make it more clear, I have put a number in front of each person, indicating seniority within the generation. So 高觉慧 will be addressed as 三弟 or 三哥 by everyone in his generation. Similarly, 高淑芬 is the sixth oldest girl in the generation, so she is addressed as 六妹 or 六姐 by others.

I'm not 100% sure about where 高淑蓉 fits in as her age was never revealed, but she was definitely the oldest of the girls and I think that she was the second oldest child in the first household.

Fourth Generation

高觉新 & 李瑞珏


Servants in the 高 household

钱嫂 (陈姨太)


王嫂, 婉儿(三房)


高忠, 喜儿(五房)

文德,李贵, 苏福(couldn't figure out)

Servants in the 张 household


The only remaining character is 梅, who is a maternal cousin of 高觉新 and thus not a part of the 高 family.

I've been all over the book to fish this out, but errors are still possible. Corrections welcome. I still don't know who the fifth sister is, I guess I'm missing one person, perhaps she died young like 高淑蓉 .

Edited by renzhe
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Good work, renzhe.

Just a little more to add:

周氏 is 觉新,觉民, and 觉慧's step-mother. Their father married after their birth-mother passed up. Their father is also deceased by the time of the story. 氏 means “surname”. Chinese women don't change their surnames when they get married.

喜儿 and 婉儿 are two additional young female servants.

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Thanks, gato.

I've just noticed that I had misspelled 氏, so I corrected it. Like you say, the women used to basically drop their name and adopt 氏 after marrying into a family.

I couldn't find the names of the oldest two brothers of the second generation (one died early, and the other one is always referred to as father, obviously).

Also interesting to notice is that 琴 and 梅 did not grow up in the same household as everyone else (and梅 is a maternal cousin of 觉新 and 觉民), which means that they are legitimate targets of romantic affections, despite the close blood relation. I assume it would be different with paternal cousins growing in the same household like 高淑英, which would be taboo. Also note that 琴 and 梅 are not related, but are close friends.

Also not specifically stated is that 觉新's mother, their stepmother and the mother of cousin 梅, are all sisters (their father married their mother's younger sister after the mother's death), and I believe that this had something to do with the falling out between these two families.

Edited by renzhe
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Don't worry, out of all of these, only a few are major characters, and their relationship to each other is very obvious.

Still, I thought this would be a great opportunity to understand traditional Chinese family structure, and perhaps also to understand the motivation of some characters better.

Also, understanding the family tree will be helpful in reading the remaining two books of the trilogy, which I intend to do.

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Nice work renzhe, when I read it about ten years ago I didn't bother to write up a family tree at all.

What are we doing for May 2009 Book of the Month?

And maybe slightly off topic, a novel is too much for me to do in a month. Anyone thinking of having Short Story of the Month? I was thinking something like 祝福, 早安北京, maybe something out of 小说月报. If there's interest I'll try to get it up and going. If it's an idiotic idea or something like it is already going on here in this forums, then I'll drop the idea.

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