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Book of the Month May 2020 (or whenever!) - 《草鞋湾》 by 曹文轩

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somethingfunny

Yes, looks like my previous suggestion was quite accurate.  Maybe I should start writing children's fiction.

 

Cao Wenxuan seems to like writing about guns almost as much as he likes writing about birds.

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Lu

Chapter 12:

Spoiler

沙丘克 and 沙小丘 move into a hotel across the street from the 大通旅社, where 小四子 is supposed to stay. They settle down on a favourable spot and start... painting! Very smart way of being inconspicuous while looking at the same place for days on end. But 小四子 doesn't show up, and after three days 沙丘克 realises that 胡妈 didn't say 大通旅社 but 大东旅社, with an accent he hadn't accounted for. The Shas set up shop there and sure enough, 小四子 shows up and is handily arrested by the pair.

 

Chapter 13:

Spoiler

小四子 is brought back to Shanghai and interrogated, but unfortunately he has sold little 阿珠 on to a man named 阿杜 and he is unable (or unwilling?) to give a good description of what 阿杜 looks like. A dead end. 沙丘克 is in a foul mood.

 

Some words:

路灯杆    lùdēnggān    street lamp pole
写生    xiěshēng    paint or sketch from nature, do a still life painting
供词    gòngcí        oral or written confession
牌坊    páifang    old-style memorial archway or gateway (use Google Image for a better explanation)
示意    shìyì        to hint, to signal
沉浸    chénjìn        be immersed in, be steeped in
扑朔迷离    pūshuò mílí    bewildering, confusing
踟蹰    chíchú        hesitate, waver

 

1 hour ago, somethingfunny said:

Cao Wenxuan seems to like writing about guns almost as much as he likes writing about birds.

There's more birds coming up in chapter 8! But jokes aside, birds really are a thing for Cao Wenxuan, not just in this book. He wrote a whole series of short picture books about a 萌萌鸟 (with an introduction about how much he likes birds) and a 散文 about birds and that's only the things I have read.

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Lu

Chapter 14:

Spoiler

All summer, 沙丘克 and 沙小丘 search for clues and post at train stations and crowded places in the hopes of catching a kidnapper in the act, but they find nothing. One day they visit the Shengs and learn that they are coping very badly with the loss of 阿珠. On the way back, 沙小丘 suggests his dad get a drink in a bar. They go in, have a drink and some food and 沙丘克 ruminates sadly about his life choices.

 

Chapter 15:

Spoiler

沙丘克 and 沙小丘 stake out at a market (painting, as before) and actually catch a kidnapper in the act! They run after him and catch him, return the kidnapped boy to his distraught father, little Sha calls the police while big Sha beats up the goon.

 

Learning quite a bit more about 沙丘克 in these two chapters (and the previous one as well), and none of them good things.

Spoiler

In true hard-boiled detective and Sherlock Holmes tradition, he has a drinking problem (and smokes opium? He gets a 烟 at a restaurant but I'm not sure if that is opium or just a sigarette), and also a violence problem. And while he doesn't want his son to become a private detective like him, he has been grooming little Sha for this profession since he was very small. This book is not so idyllic anymore.

 

No vocab list today because I don't feel like making one.

 

ETA: @murrayjames posted a vocab list for these two chapters here.

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Xiao Kui

I got a late start , almost finished with Chapter 2.  The magpies made me think of the magpie bridge/qixi, but don’t suppose a kids’ book would have romantic symbolism, at the same time I’m figuring it has to be important and besides establishing an atmosphere and symbolizing the family’s struggle and history,  it may foreshadow some plot development ‘as well. 草房子,by the same author also had a little boy who liked birds and tried to make a home for some but it was a minor scene.  The sequence about the magpies seems indulgent and amateurish from a western perspective, but I’ve encountered similar sentimentality in some of the 散文 I’ve read in the past so I’m guessing that it’s embraced and even celebrated in Chinese literature? I can count how many Chinese novels I’ve read on one hand so I’m still a noob.  I’m afraid I don’t have much to contribute to the discussion but I am finding it a relatively easy read and am curious as to how the story will progress. 

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murrayjames

Started the novel this week. Have read the preface and first chapter so far. What stood out:

 

Spoiler
  • the scene where birds attack and poop on fleeing intruders
  • when 沙丘克’s 院子 is shot up, his first thought is not to take his son to safety, but to investigate the bullet

 

Some words I looked up in the chapter:

 

蝉 chán - cicada
踮 diǎn - tiptoe
彷徨 pánghuáng - to pace
笤帚 tiáozhou - broom 

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roddy

As far as birds go, I really like the description of the....oh, I suppose I should spoiler it...

Spoiler

the maid woman as the little girl runs towards her with arms outstretched: "she spread her arms out too, like a hawk unfolding its wings."

Or something like that, the book's downstairs. Very threatening.

 

Welcome to the party, murrayjames and Xiao Kui. 

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Lu
5 hours ago, Xiao Kui said:

I’m figuring it has to be important and besides establishing an atmosphere and symbolizing the family’s struggle and history,  it may foreshadow some plot development ‘as well.

My thinking is that it symbolises how 沙小丘 would have liked to have a more regular family, with also a mom, and him going to school.

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roddy

He's also just lonely. He wants some magpies to play with. 

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somethingfunny

...or pigeons...

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Lu

Chapter 16:

Spoiler

When 沙小丘 remarks of the '阿杜' portrait that this person doesn't look like a bad guy, 沙丘克 has an idea and he and 梁正方 question 小四子 again. 小四子 confesses that the person he described for the portrait is actually his cousin, an honest fisherman. He agrees to describe the real 阿杜 and... it's the kidnapper 沙丘克 and 沙小丘 apprehended at the market!

 

A few words:

惯匪    guànfěi    hardened bandit, professional brigand
压根儿 yàgēnr        from the start, altogether, in the first place
狡猾    jiǎohuá        crafty, cunning
钨丝    wūsī        tungsten filament

 

There's another bird at page 154: Sha Qiuke standing over a suspect he is interrogating, with the lamp behind him, so he looms over the suspect like an eagle about to pounce on a rabbit.

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roddy

No!!! Our hero is in peril! 

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murrayjames

Read chapter two. As a father of a young child, its ending hit me pretty heavy.

 

Vocab:

道听途说 dàotīng-túshuō - gossip

散架 sǎnjià - to fall apart

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murrayjames
On 5/18/2020 at 8:22 PM, somethingfunny said:

Cao Wenxuan seems to like writing about guns almost as much as he likes writing about birds.

 

Reminds me of Hong Kong film director John Woo.

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roddy

That's an interesting choice for the movie version. I was thinking Zhang Jiake for lengthy shots of 沙小丘 mooching around the courtyard. 

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Lu

Jia Zhang-ke can also handle the darker bits I think. He did make a 江湖 movie with crime and guns in it.

 

Chapter 17:

Spoiler

The would-be kidnapper apprehended at the market is brought back for another round of questioning and eventually tells about how he sold 阿珠. Unfortunately, he doesn't know who the buyer was. But! he did hear the man tell someone his boss still lives at 'number138'. 沙丘克 and 沙小丘 together figure out that the buyer must live in one of the streets near the Bund and decide to stake out all numbers 138, one at the time.

 

Chapter 18:

Spoiler

The two start painting while surveilling again, one house after the other. They are questioned by the police at one point, but explain they are just painting. They find a number 138 with a little girl in the yard... but the little girl looks different from the picture of 阿珠.

 

No vocab today because I don't have time.

 

1 hour ago, murrayjames said:

Read chapter two. As a father of a young child, its ending hit me pretty heavy.

Yah books about children being kidnapped are perhaps not very pleasant reading material if you're a parent... I think I'll finish the book in a few days, if you like I can tell you how good or bad it gets for 阿珠, so you know if you want to keep reading.

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murrayjames

Finished Chapter 3.

 

Spoiler

I like how, after several stern refusals, 沙丘克 had his son ostensibly decide whether to take up the case. “接吗,儿子?”

 

手足无措 shǒuzú-wúcuò - at a loss as to what to do

纵横 zònghéng - with great ease; freely

听罢 tīngbà - to finish listening to

搀扶 chānfú - to help somebody by the arm

爽朗 shuǎnglǎng - candid

 

On 5/15/2020 at 5:13 PM, somethingfunny said:

Well, absolute scenes in chapter 3. Obviously these are exceptional circumstances, but I’m not sure I’d appreciate that kind of behaviour in my own home.

 

Me neither. Why run a private detective agency from your personal residence, especially with a child at home? 沙丘克 is an unusual dude.

 

17 hours ago, Lu said:

Yah books about children being kidnapped are perhaps not very pleasant reading material if you're a parent... I think I'll finish the book in a few days, if you like I can tell you how good or bad it gets for 阿珠, so you know if you want to keep reading.

 

Thank you Lu. I am open to having my heart strings pulled, so long as the heart-string pulling is not gratuitous or false or phony. What 沙丘克 said to his son at the end of Chapter 2 is true. Some kinds of organized evil are so great that no one person can reasonably expect to stop them.

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roddy

There's no way the little girl doesn't get home safe, is there guys? Guys?

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murrayjames

Guys and gal(s) 😎

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murrayjames

Finished Chap 4

 

A letter arrives.

 

马大伯:要不要交给先生呢?

神探沙丘克:你手上有一封信。

 

压根儿 yàgēn'er - altogether; entirely

浮现 fúxiàn - to come into view

面额 miàn'é - denomination (of $$)

熙熙攘攘 xīxī-rǎngrǎng - bustling with activity

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PerpetualChange

Arriving... someday

 

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