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Book of the Month, April 2009, 巴金's 家


randall_flagg
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I mentioned above that I find that there are quite a number of flaws to Ba Jin as a novelists. I wanted to wait for others to finish reading before discussing them. One of the flaws is that Ba Jin tends to overwrite. One mark of a good writer is an ability to describe the essence of something or provoke a feeling with just a few words. Ba Jin isn't able to do that in 家. A prime example of overwriting is the dream episode in chapter 28 involving 鸣风. It goes on for way too long:

http://cn.xs8.cn/ddmj/bajin/jia/029.htm

Chapter 28

  “三少爷!”觉慧听见有人在叫他,声音是他很熟习的。他抬起头朝声音来的方向看去,在一株大松树后面鸣凤露出了她的笑脸,两颗漆黑的眼珠活泼地转动着,一只手在向他挥动。他连忙抛掷了手里的书,站起来向她跑去

Recently, there was a big controversy with 韩寒 (a popular writer) and 陈丹青 (a famous painter) making comments during a TV interview that they considered a number of writers who are considered to be the greats in mainland China to be not so great.

http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_4701280b01009qtg.html

大师们,我等无条件臣服于您

韩寒

Since most of the criticized writers are taught in schools and heavily promoted by the party, their comments stirred quite a bit of emotions. But some critics did agree with them. Here's an essay on 巴金 in the aftermath of the controversy, for example:

http://space.sznews.com/?uid-695361-action-viewspace-itemid-91987

应该客观评价巴金的文学成就

钱理群先生在《现代文学三十年》一书里对巴金的评价是比较到位的:

巴金的文体不算精美圆熟,也许还不属于那种可供反复推敲咀嚼的创作,但其单纯、朴素、流畅,能有声有色地表现鲜明的感情,能以整体审美氛围的营造抓住读者的灵魂,这跟他喜用充满感情色彩的词汇、动势强烈的句式和富于抑扬力度的语调也有关。

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Congrats renzhe. :mrgreen: I'm glad you enjoyed the book, and I agree 100% that it's a great book for intermediates or people who are just getting to the "I can read a book phase". I still think the book works pretty well as a story, and as a historical document.

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Anyway, I've started reading 春 (the second book in the trilogy). So far, it's nice to see some of the younger family members get more exposure and face their own problems, as the first book was mostly fixed on the problems of the three brothers and their cousin 琴.

I'll have to see how well it keeps my interest, given that it handles many of the same themes as 家. I might post a thing or two once I'm finished, or if anyone else finishes 家 and would like to go on, we can discuss it here.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Today I finished 春. Looking back, it looks like it took me exactly three weeks, which is not bad.

I recommend it to people who enjoyed 家. I find 家 to be a bit stronger overall, but this feels like a continuation of the same novel, with the same style and most of the same characters.

The interesting thing was a change of focus. To me, 家 was about the generational conflict, the old against new and, most of all, about the issue of power and control. This is shown through the lives of the three main male protagonists, 觉新, 觉民 and 觉慧, who have different personalities and different ways of dealing with the pressure and the society they don't approve of. The grandfather symbolises the old way, they symbolise the new way.

The second book is all about the women. The central characters in 春 are the female cousins from the 高 compound, 淑英, 淑华 and 淑贞, and their external cousin 琴 who provides support and guidance. Other female characters, like 瑞珏 and external cousins 惠 and 芸 also experience the treatment of the women at the time. The novel is a bit heavier than 家, but the resolution is satisfying. In fact, the most interesting thing about the novel is not the events that transpire (which can all be expected, really), but how the characters of 觉新, 觉民 and 淑英 change over time. The characters (including the ones who played only a minor role in 家) are still vivid, and the story still gripping. Also, it was really nice to see 剑云 do something other than moan.

A good read for those who enjoyed 家. I'm off to read 秋 next.

Anyway, how is everyone getting along with 家? I can't believe that only gato and I finished it this time around?

Edited by renzhe
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I haven't given up, just that I was busy with a lot of other things, and one of the things that got neglected was Jia. Once I get some of those things done and manage to steer my life back into its old course, I'll pick it up again. Should be soon.

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  • 2 months later...

I've never cared for TV or movies (except kungfu movies) but in all honesty I have always wanted to see this novel in TV series format...is this TV series shown on youku too? I think this TV series is in 21 episodes, am I correct?

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Ah, well, no, I didn't know all Chinese shows are captioned, because I never watch tv or movies unless it's a kungfu flick. So I don't think I'll join the first episode project but if you start one about the tv series 家, I'll join it. Starting to watch #2 today.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Further to Ba Jin's anarchism, was reading an article about the movement in China (as you do) and it mentioned that the original version of 家 had a great deal of explicitly anarchist content (as opposed to just railing against authoritarianism) that was edited out of post-49 editions. Can't find the link for the article now, but this says the same:

After the Communist victory in 1949, Ba Jin was forced to rewrite his works. 'In the first editions the protagonists acted with anarchist ideas and in a clearly anarchist ambience, and they often quoted the well-known texts of anarchism… In the “revised” edition… Emma Goldman is not only no longer his spiritual mother; she doesn't exist.'4 From this point on, he abandoned fiction, and only wrote a small amount of reportage. In 1958 he renounced Anarchism and in 1961 stated 'I am not satisfied either by the quantity or quality of my works.'
http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/4xgxxt
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  • 3 months later...

You won't be able to get any of the un-revised works in the Mainland. You can also probably forget the political pamphlets. I'm not sure about Taiwan, but as the KMT hated anarchists even more than the communists did, I have my doubts.

If anyone knows how to get some original copies, I'd be thankful for information. I'd like to have a copy for the historical value. It will likely be in traditional characters.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Getting closer to the next April, but I'm still reading Jia. The war stalled things a bit, I find the development of the members of the family more interesting than crisis and fighting, glad they're back to the more everyday things now. And poor Mingfeng.

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