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Reading Yu Hua's "To Live"


daofeishi
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@jkhsu, Gleaves: thanks. That was also roughly my understanding. I think I found that a little surprising. Also the lack of mention of family visits (from the wife's family, and also to their daughter after she is given away) but then I don't understand every detail so I'm never sure if what I find surprising is actually something I missed or not :)

Also in the sentence you quoted, what is the meaning of 算了?

And is the boy actually running 25km a day? 有庆十来岁的时候,一天两次来去就得跑五十多里路。edit: where would he fit the class hours between the running and feeding the sheep? Anyone knows typical class schedule at that time?

edit: and, yes, giving away fengxia was a very sad thing.

I'm glad to see people are still reading this.

@Silent: well you can always get back to reading this novel later :) good luck with the other material.

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Also in the sentence you quoted, what is the meaning of 算了?
In the context of that sentence you could translate it as "just let it be" or "not think too much about it". For example you could translate the sentence as, "I discussed with 家珍 whether we should give 凤霞 away to someone else and [just let it be / not think too much about it]"

Edit: Gleaves' post sounds good as well

And is the boy actually running 25km a day? 有庆十来岁的时候,一天两次来去就得跑五十多里路。
According to wikipedia, the Chinese 里 might be 500 meters or 1/2 km. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Li_%28unit%29
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里 might be 500 meters or 1/2 km

There's no maybe or might be about it. One 里 is 500m, and this has been the official unit of measurement since the 1930's. Prior to that the measurement was approximately 500m (or at least it was according to Wikipedia, anyway).

So, 50里 would be 25km. That's a huge distance for a kid to be running, but still not infeasible. He's making 2 round-trips between home and school a day, so that means each leg is about 6-7km. I could imagine a kid running that in maybe an hour or so, and if the school is anything like many Chinese schools, there'd be maybe 2-3 hours over lunch, so it's not impossible, especially if the kid is like 有庆 and has a talent for running.

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I'm at page 127 of the 南海出版公司 edition...

when 福贵 and the sports teacher are crying over 有庆's body

Stupid book made me cry too :(

The 2nd novel I read will be sci-fi even if I have to wait a bit before I'm able to tackle it.

Anyway, I didn't find a translated version at the library, so I'm back with another question:

at the time of the communal canteen, I understand that they are using some (cooking?) apparatus that burns gas (汽油桶煮钢铁), but what is it exactly? why do they need to take care of it overnight? I didn't understand much of that passage.

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Stupid book made me cry too

But on the bright side, it demonstrates that you've reached a point in Chinese where you can appreciate literature enough that it can make you cry. That's a nice big milestone.

I understand that they are using some (cooking?) apparatus that burns gas (汽油桶煮钢铁), but what is it exactly? why do they need to take care of it overnight? I didn't understand much of that passage.

To understand it, it helps to understand the history of what was going on at the time. How familar are you with the Great Leap Forward? Especially the emphasis on steel production and the backyard furnaces that ended up being created to meet steel production quotas? So, basically they are trying to melt all their scrap metal (钢铁) by heating it (煮) inside an oil drum (汽油桶).

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Thanks Imron, I get it now. Those links are pretty interesting Edit: and also scary. I think we studied that in my last year of high school (World history after WWII) but that was quite a long time ago and I didn't get a passing grade anyway hehe.

Yu Hua really is a skilled novelist in my opinion, he makes the story extremely vivid with simple words and sentences. (But then I am also somewhat susceptible to negative emotions.) He also introduces some suspense that makes me unable to put the book down at times.

For instance, he says there was a problem with 有庆, but then we have to wait until he explains the whole series of events until 福贵 reaches the hospital, and then at last we learn that 有庆 finally died.

Speaking of which, 福贵 carrying his son's body back by himself was also shocking.

Anyway I'm celebrating this "milestone" with chocolate cake :P

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Does 偏头 = torticollis?

Adding some more context. In this sentence:

队长说:“没哄你,他叫万二喜,是个偏头,脑袋靠着肩膀,怎么也起不来。”

I am assuming similar to the boy in this picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/shinetung/5271510972/

Is the medical term for 偏头 torticollis?

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@edelweis: Thanks for the additional info. However, the description of 偏頭症 and "psychosomatic torticollis" in that link doesn't really match the 偏头 guy in the book. But 斜颈 does seem like the medically correct way to say torticollis in Chinese.

I did some more searching and think it's probably congenital muscular torticollis.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torticollis

http://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/tc/congenital-torticollis-topic-overview

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I'd never heard the word torticollis before you mentioned it, but I could understand the Chinese when reading it and I think it is probably this. You'll probably not find an exact translation match because I think it is an informal way of saying it, and possibly also maybe impolite, e.g. imagine someone is a paraplegic, it's maybe a bit like saying that guy's a cripple.

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I just finished the book. Some thoughts:

First of all, thanks to daofeishi for starting this thread and others who have participated in the discussions. This is the first Chinese novel I've read and it's satisfying to have accomplished this milestone (though with some help from Perapera-kun). I am not sure when I would have read a novel like this if I hadn't found this forum and participated here.

From this experience, I've also learned that trying to read something a bit above my level even if I don't understand all the words is an effective method to improve my reading speed and comprehension. I am looking forward to reading more novels as part of my study plan.

About the book: I really enjoyed it but...

it was quite depressing. At times it felt like one of those horror movies where every person gets killed off, one after another, until only one person is left. Even with the tragedies, the beginning and middle were mostly believable. However, toward the end, I started getting numb to the deaths.

The two parts that moved me the most were when 家珍(pregnant at the time) gets dragged out of the gambling parlor and when they gave 凤霞 away.

For some reason the image of 凤霞, happily grabbing a basket and sickle, following her dad outside without knowing she's going to be given away, sticks in my mind the most.

Finally, anyone have suggestions on what to read next?

Edited by imron
use spoiler tags for major plot points
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Congratulations jkhsu!

I myself am barely halfway, as I have found less time to read this semester than I thought I would have. I feel a bit sorry about not having been able to keep an active discussion going in here, but I hope people have found it helpful to have other people working on the same project, even if we have been going at different speeds.

From this experience, I've also learned that trying to read something a bit above my level even if I don't understand all the words is an effective method to improve my reading speed and comprehension. I am looking forward to reading more novels as part of my study plan.

This seems like the best possible outcome of a reading project. I'd be willing to participate in another one myself after all my fellowship applications are done, my exams are over (and I have finished 活着 :roll: ). 《圈子圈套》 sounds like a good idea. I was also thinking about 《狼图腾》 or 罗永浩's 《我的奋斗》

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@imron: Thanks for the spoiler edits (apologize, I wasn't sure if I should have used them here) and the new book rec. I will definitely add this to the list.

@roddy, @daofeishi: Thanks for the congrats.

I'd be willing to participate in another one myself after all my fellowship applications are done, my exams are over (and I have finished 活着 :roll: ). 《圈子圈套》 sounds like a good idea. I was also thinking about 《狼图腾》 or 罗永浩's 《我的奋斗》

I'm up for any of these. I've found it very fun and rewarding to participate in this group reading thread. When are you available to start another one? (approximate date?).

More thoughts about the ending...

I would have liked it better if Yu Hua didn't kill off 苦根 in the end. It sort of made the pain and suffering endured by 凤霞, 二喜, and 家珍 meaningless. I know from the preface, Yu Hua said, "人是为活着本身而活着的,而不是为活着之外的任何事物所活着." However, I don't think he needed to show 福贵 as the last survivor to prove his point. Yu Hua has already shown 福贵's will to live admist the tragedies that befell him. It would have been interesting if in the end, it was revealed that the narrator was actually 苦根!. I don't know, I guess I'm just into happier endings. :D

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