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

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Chapters 14 and 15



Great job slowly ramping up the tension in Chapter 15. The pacing of the book is really well done.


气馁 qìněi - be discouraged
大海捞针 dàhǎi-lāozhēn - look for a needle in a haystack
浑茫 húnmáng - vague and confused
孜孜不倦 zīzī-bùjuàn - diligently
顺藤摸瓜 shùnténɡ-mōɡuā - to follow a clue to get results
花团锦簇 huātuán-jǐncù - highly decorative
凋零 diāolínɡ - wither and fall
枯枝败叶 kūzhī-bàiyè - dead twigs and withered leaves
蹒跚 pánshān - staggering
清秀 qīnɡxiù - pretty and refined
开阔 kāikuò - wide
竹篾 zhúmiè - thin bamboo strips
吟唱 yínchànɡ - to chant
心不在焉 xīnbùzàiyān - be absent-minded    
沉住气 chénzhùqì - to keep cool
花坛 huātán - raised flower bed
熙熙攘攘 xīxī-rǎnɡrǎnɡ - bustling with activity
踉跄 liànɡqiànɡ - to totter

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School started again Monday after half-term and it has messed up my routine a bit.  Need to get back and finish this book off.

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Chapters 16 and 17



Following three more police interrogations, 沙丘克 discovers the true identity of kidnapper 阿杜. He also learns of 阿杜’s sale of young 阿珠 to a butler of a well-heeled family in Shanghai. 沙丘克 and 沙小丘 now know part of the street address where they believe 阿珠 is living. Can they figure out the full address and find the child?


逍遥 xiāoyáo - carefree
端详 duānxiánɡ - to scrutinize
纤夫 qiànfū - boat tracker
炯炯 jiǒngjiǒng - bright
荒原狼 Huāngyuánláng - Steppenwolf
彪形大汉 biāoxíng-dàhàn - husky, burly man
侥幸 jiǎoxìnɡ - lucky
偌大 ruòdà - so big
乳臭未干 rǔxiù-wèiɡān - wet behind the ears
小大人儿 xiǎodàrénr - precocious child
一筹莫展 yīchóu-mòzhǎn - at the end of one’s tether
山穷水尽 shānqióng-shuǐjìn - reach the end of one’s resources
老气横秋 lǎoqì-hénɡqiū - flaunt one’s seniority

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I've added a list of book-finishers to the first post (hope that's ok, Lu) and as people report in that they've finished I or Lu (again, hope that's ok, Lu) will add your name. 

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Sure. Perhaps people who finish it can tag either me or Roddy, to make sure we notice and can add the name to the list (especially if you finish it much later than the rest).

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Chapters 18 to the end

What an ending, my God. I am shaken. Some thoughts:




曹文轩 telegraphs his narrative punches in an unusually satisfying way. At earlier points in the story (e.g., when 沙小丘 folds paper airplanes in captivity; when 沙父子 patiently wait for 刘登贵 and 小四子 to appear) I could tell what would happen by the end of the chapter. Like Lu, I guessed that 阿珠’’s new mother was none other than 于蔓莉. In the hands of a lesser writer, the result would be predictable and boring. But 曹文轩 is like a masterful close-up magician who makes the palmed coin disappear three feet from our watching eyes. We know in advance the coin will disappear. (That’s how the trick works.) Since the coin’s disappearance is so well executed, we can’t help but be impressed. That’s brilliant writing.

The realization that 于蔓莉 is 阿珠’s new mother gives special symbolic significance to several earlier events in the story:


  • 于蔓莉 leaving 沙丘克 and their lovely, precocious baby 沙小丘
  • the repeated full spelling out of 沙丘克’s street address
  • 沙丘克‘s initial reticence to take up the case of young 阿珠
  • the kidnapping of 沙小丘
  • 沙丘克’s paintings
  • 沙丘克’s alcoholism and obvious guilt over 于蔓莉 leaving




  • leaves 沙丘克 and 草鞋湾路一百零八号
  • for 李明秋 [bright autumn = new (and darker) beginnings?] and 霞飞路一百三十八号
  • There is only one digit different in these two addresses: #108 and #138
  • This fact is emphasized in the narrative: 在尹芳萍家住了一周,尹芳萍问于蔓莉:“你是肯定不回草鞋湾路一百零八号了?” 于蔓莉点点头。[...] 自从住到霞飞路一百三十八号...


Young 阿珠’s new name...


  • is 莎莎
  • which is strikingly similar to 沙, the surname of 于蔓莉’s ex-husband and son.


In Chapter 19, where 阿珠 finally appears, there is heavy symbolic foreshadowing involving birds. 沙小丘 tells his father that a female magpie is feeding and protecting her newborn chicks. 





Meanwhile, the male magpie cares only of himself, drinking (!!) and relaxing in the springtime sun without a care in the world.





The reader is left to contemplate what happens to young 阿珠, her birth parents, and 于蔓莉. While 沙丘克 and 沙小丘 awake with heavy hearts to a new dawn, the book’s unresolved ending portends a dark future for these other characters. It is very sad.




当 dāngr - at that moment
挤眼 jǐyǎn - to wink
雪松 xuěsōnɡ - cedar
马驹 mǎjū - pony
稚气 zhìqì - childishness
好端端 hǎoduānduān - in perfect condition
落寞 luòmò - desolate
骤雨 zhòuyǔ - sudden rainstorm
闲暇 xiánxiá - leisure
饥肠辘辘 jīchánɡ-lùlù - stomach rumbling with hunger
扒拉 bāla - rummage in a dish of food with chopsticks
安然无恙 ānrán-wúyànɡ - unscathed
过意不去 ɡuòyìbùqù - to feel awful

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I love your interpretation of the name 莎莎! I hadn't even thought of that angle. However,


it's Yu Manli's husband who tells her this is the little girl's name, she doesn't name her. Although I suppose she told him about her first family and he guessed that this name would be good for her.


If 李明秋's name is symbolic, the 秋 I think refers not to the new beginning being dark, but the new beginning being a little later in life, after spring and summer. But it's a bright autumn, so still good.

Actually I love your whole analysis. Book is even better than I realised.


As to the ending,


I do think 沙丘克's going to the police means that he is going to tell them what he has found out. Of course there is no telling what will happen to 阿珠 as a result. And either way 沙丘克 will continue to live with his guilt.


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On 6/4/2020 at 8:42 AM, roddy said:

I've added a list of book-finishers to the first post (hope that's ok, Lu) and as people report in that they've finished I or Lu (again, hope that's ok, Lu) will add your name. 


Fine.  I'll finish it now.

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OK, I'm finished.




Yes, a very good ending.  I realised (although perhaps not as quickly as Lu) that the lady would be 于蔓莉.  I went through a bit of disgust that 沙丘克 wasn't immediately down the police station doing the right thing.  But then after the visit to the 盛's house I found myself having second thoughts - tragic and unjust though it would be, placing 阿朱 with a mother who had lost her mind and an absent father didn't seem like a great idea.  Personally, I found the plight of the 盛's more poignant than the whole 于曼莉 coincidence.  All in all, a very sad ending, not even bittersweet, just sad.


I'm a little disappointed we didn't hear any more from the gangster who writes threatening letters and then signs them.


And I agree Lu.  While there may not be many well-rounded female characters, there are essentially only two well-rounded characters in the book.  I think this particular hobby horse might find better avenues elsewhere.


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  • 2 weeks later...

Good to hear you enjoy the book Tomsima!

@ouyangjun Are you also still reading? How do you like the story so far?

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@murrayjames here is a link to the set I bough on Amazon.  It ships from (or at least mine) China and took a while to get to me.  All four of the classics are in this set:  四大名著套装:三国演义+水浒传+西游记+红楼梦(青少年版)(套装共4册)


After I finish 西游记 I'm going to move onto 三国.  The nice thing is that 喜马拉雅 has some good audio books on these books as well.  I like reading the chapter first and then listening to the chapter on 喜马拉雅.  The books and the audiobook are not the same, so you can't really follow along and read, but I find this to be good passive listening practice as I multi-task (e.g. clean or cook) since I already know what is happening in the story.

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I just finished, had a great time with this book, really well written, zoomed through the last few chapters of the book it was very gripping! I confess I guessed the identity of the mother almost immediately, but it was mainly because I had noticed others had said there was a great twist at the end, and that just seemed like the most obvious and meaningful one to go with. Nonetheless, as @murrayjames said, it didn't make the story any less exciting, and in fact drew me in even closer, it was like one of those tv shows where the audience knows before the character they are following does, almost willing them on by shouting at the screen 'turn around!' Great stuff, and I agree with all the above comments, I really enjoyed the style of 曹文轩. I had no issues at all with the unbalanced depths of characters, as I felt the book's main goal was to really look in depth at the relationship between parent and child beyond anything else; for me, the detective story was just a framework, acting only as a vehicle for talking to a younger audience about how it is okay be skeptical of adults without undermining a loving relationship, even if they are in positions of power. I enjoyed the fact that there is always some ambiguity over who is actually the real genius, 沙丘克 or 沙小丘, with both constantly questioning each other and themselves throughout the book. Ultimately,


沙小丘 is left outside the station, left in the dark about bigger decisions that are being made.

Take from that what you will...


Either way, great read, looking forward to more book of the month action in the future. @Geiko do you still want me to send on Roddy's copy? If not, was there anyone else I missed on Roddy's first round of offers?

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My only condition for the continued world tour of the book is that when you've finished, you try and find another forums member to pass it on to. If you can't, ask me if I want it back. If I don't, you can keep it. Long may it travel. 

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