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roddy

Book of the Whenever: October 2020: 异兽志

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roddy

As discussed here. If anyone's struggling to get hold of a copy - see here, it should be fairly straightforward if you're in the iOS ecosystem, and hopefully also Android. 

 

I'm not going to be doing wordlists or anything, but will try and keep updated on progress and help anyone out with any questions. 

 

Being two chapters in, I'm enjoying this. It's not quite like anything I've read in Chinese before - we have a normal Chinese city, populated by normal humans and also... I'll call them beasts, but often they pass for human. And weird stuff happens with beasts, and they fall in and out of love, and eat us from the inside and.... it's fantastical and surreal and I'm liking the world-building. The two chapters I've read are more like self-contained stories. I don't know if that's always the case. There are 9 chapters, I think, ranging from 9,000 to 13,000 characters or so. Certainly you could read either or both of the first two and feel you've read a short story. 

 

The language I think is generally ok, tends towards the literary at points, but not in an overwhelming way. The plots could be confusing, as beasts pass for human and.. well, will try not to spoil anything, but you do need to pay attention. 

 

Anyone had a shot at this yet?

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Lu

I have it at the ready, planning to start next week. Sounds interesting!

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jiaojiao87

I took a stab at this a few months ago.  The book was unfortunately too difficult or too literary for me, so I decided to put it down.  I read the first chapter, learned all the unknown words, and read it again for understanding.  Then did this for the second chapter, but the amount of work lookups I had to do to understand what was going on was too many to be able to get into the story.  However, I have a good understanding of the first two chapters st this point!

 

I've since decided to take a stab at simpler stories to improve my vocab before trying this one again.

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Lu

The language is pretty literary and a bit 文言, I think. I stumbled over 悲伤兽不笑,但笑即不止,长笑至死方休,故名悲伤, not exactly easy and that's on page 1.

 

Story/chapter 1: 悲伤兽. The female 悲伤兽 are so beautiful that they're the preferred trophy wives of all the rich men in 永安市, but the males can't mate with human women. A painter, 小左, takes in a male 悲伤兽 and all but falls in love with him. What happened then?

 

So far it's intriguing but it would probably be good to read it again and think deeply about the underlying message.

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roddy

That first bit - if you have a print copy (or at least my print copy) it’s kind of in a little interstitial bit, rather than the run of text. Will take a photo later. 

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Lu
36 minutes ago, roddy said:

interstitial

My new English word of the day.

 

In my print copy, that sentence is near the end of the first page of the story proper. The sentence on the interstitial chapter title (did I use that correctly) is from the last page of the story (but similar, and just as 文言-like).

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roddy

Oh, sounds like I'm getting confused then.

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Geiko

@matteo That webpage only allows you to read for free the first four chapters, the rest are locked and it costs 18.99 元, so I asume it's legal.

 

I've read the first two chapters too. I think the language seems easier than in 笛安's《景恒街》(the business parts were hard for me), but then there are sentences that I can't understand, such as the one quoted by @Lu. I can't detect easily when it's 文言, it's rewarding to know that it's not that my Chinese is terrible, but rather that 颜歌 uses a language that is clearly difficult.

 

The story is very original, but it also makes me wonder if I'm understanding correctly what I read. I have a couple of silly questions, if anyone can give me their opinion, I'll be grateful.

 

Fist of all, a very general question: when you find a proper name in a novel, and its character(s) have multiple readings, how do you know which reading is the correct one, or at least, the most plausible one? For example, in the first chapter we have these two siblings, 乐云 and 乐雨, and I wondered if it was lè or yuè. Is it something evident to native speakers?

 

And then a question about the plot (warning, SPOILERS of the first chapter):

Spoiler

 the painter 小左 is human, but then at the end of the chapter she smiles and dies, just like 悲伤兽 do. Does it mean she was one of them? Or rather that because she fell in love with a 悲伤兽 she just became one? Or none of the above? She liked to eat vanilla ice-creams, which is a feature of these beasts, but on the other hand, she 顺养 her beast, so it doesn't seem an equal relationship...

 

I'll try to keep on reading this book, but it might turn out to be too difficult.

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roddy

Yeah, I think I might have had to re-read those paragraphs as well. There are definitely parts where I'm not sure if I'm not quite understanding and should go back, or if it's just ambiguous. 

 

On the names - I'd actually assumed those were given names and assumed lè, which seemed to make more sense: "enjoy clouds / enjoy rain", but really could be the other way, and now I think there's no reason it's not a surname, so again could be either.

 

Spoiler

小左 was by that point 乐云, or at least that's very much implied. Look maybe 4 paragraphs back from the end, starting 我浑身一冷. Note also shortly before her death, how she's described - "越发美丽。。。 不笑。There's also a 显得更加美丽 earlier on (although now I think about it, isn't it the females that are beautiful, and wasn't 乐云 male? Anyway. Oh, and looking back, also the conversation with 和棋 - "他的灵魂永生".

 

I do suspect we have a playful author though: 

”我爱上了他。“

”她?“

”是的,他“

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Lu

What Roddy says, about the names. I also read them as Lèyún and Lèyǔ, but if one wants, they could be Yuèyún and Yuèyǔ, or with 乐 as the surname. It's possible that the author made it intentionally ambiguous. 小左 is also a strange (and surname-less) name.

 

As to 小左's fate:

Spoiler

In the end, it is explained that more male than female 悲伤兽 are born. The males can't mate with a human female, but they can eat them with the mouth in the blue part of their belly and this way they turn into a female, namely a female 悲伤兽. That's how the population remains so constant. Remnants of the human 小左 were found in the stomach of the 悲伤兽 小左/乐云. It's hinted through various things that she has turned into a 悲伤兽: the eating icecream that you mention, her increased beauty. Her boyfriend 何棋 says he is in love with 他 (乐云) not 她 (小左).

 

You can put text in spoiler tags by clicking on the eye icon.

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roddy
Spoiler

The males can't mate with a human female, but they can eat them with the mouth in the blue part of their belly and this way they turn into a female, namely a female 悲伤兽. 

See, I thought I was reading this quite carefully, yet somehow missed this bit...

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Geiko
1 hour ago, Lu said:

You can put text in spoiler tags by clicking on the eye icon.

 

Thanks, I couldn't find the option :D

 

Oh, and thank you both @roddy and @Lu , now everything makes much more sense.

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Lu

Story 2: 喜乐兽. The 喜乐兽, we learn, is solitary; genderless; rarely seen. It has barbs on its wrist but otherwise looks just like a human child.

Then there is the story, about a journalist some thirty years ago who managed to photograph a 喜乐兽, later became mayor of the city and has now died. In the same newspaper, there is an ad for a missing woman, 李春. Of course, there is a connection between the recently deceased mayor and the missing woman. There are pictures, 我 confers with her 导师 again who is again not very helpful and has drinks with 小虫 in the Dolphin Bar. So far, so good, I paid very close attention to all details but still I didn't connect the dots that

Spoiler

the woman in the photograph, who looked just like 李春 but without the mole under her eye and 20 years too old to be her, was 李春's mother.

And in the end what we learn about the 喜乐兽 on the first page turns out not to be quite true and the actual truth is a real horror.

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Lu

Story 3: 舍身兽. By now I know that what we are told about the 兽 at the beginning of the chapter is not necessarily true. The male 舍身兽 can't talk, the females can. They live high in the mountains and are very rare. More and more rare, in fact, because they fight among themselves (especially the males) and they mutilate themselves to the point of death. The few that are left are put into a research institute/beast reserve for research and preservation, but they keep killing themselves, one every month, each time inspiring a wave of suicides by regular people. How should this be resolved, and what is going on with all these 舍身兽 suicides in the first place?

 

We also learn more about 我's background (including that she's a woman, which was ambiguous before, or at least I never saw a clear indication either way) and about 小虫. I'm curious how the story that is shaping up is going to be continued.

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roddy

Yeah, while the first two would have worked as standalone stories, we're definitely getting a bit of an arc now. 

 

Need to sit down and read some of this today, have missed a few days.

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Lu

Somehow with every story I start I expect a sweet tale about a woman/man and their quirky beast friend. I keep forgetting the 兽 are monsters.

 

Story 4: 穷途兽. The 穷途兽 came from afar as refugees, after their homeland was embroiled in war and chaos. They settle in 永安, where they teach at a reform school for delinquent orphans. They are such good teachers that the delinquent orphans all become good and happy by the time they leave the school. 我, devastated after what happened with 小虫 and her 导师, meets a 穷途兽 who moves in with her, wants her to tell their story and takes care of her like a father. 我 becomes very happy. So where's the catch? And what happened to the critic who killed himself at the beginning of the story?

 

A few words:

迁徙 qiānxǐ   migrate, change dwellings

蹼 pǔ  webbing, as between the toes of a duck or frog

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roddy

Just finished the fifth chapter, 荣华兽。 You'd think I'd be able to spot the surprise tragic endings coming by now, but no, every one is a surprise. I'm really enjoying the writing and the look-ups are generally interesting to learn and don't feel like it's a case of vocab being thrown in for the sake of it. Looking forward to the rest of them. 

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Lu

Story 5: 荣华兽. The 荣华兽, all female, are very good with plants. When a 荣华兽 grows older (which happens faster than with humans), the blue spots on her skin turn darker. When she dies, her body parts are buried/planted and grow into new 荣华兽. Unless they are secretly chopped down prematurely, to be made into highly prized furniture. 我 goes to stay at the nunnery where the 荣华兽 live and befriends a young 兽 there.

 

This one I thought was the clearest parable (I think each story has something underlying and wants to say something about society & the world we live in, but the others are not as clear), explained even more in the end:

Spoiler

The 兽 sprouts that get diseased early on are left to grow into new 兽 and have to live a full life cycle before they have another chance to be planted and reborn. The sprounts that remain pure are cut down to be turned into the most beautiful furniture, the true final form of the 荣华兽.

Somehow I also found this story the least strong so far. In this book, that means it's still really good though.

 

I hardly look up anything, most words I don't immediately know I can still guess enough of from context and radicals to read on. I only looked up 庵 ān, nunnery, and 榆叶梅 yúyèméi, a kind of flowering tree (Prunus triloba). I think in this book the vocab is not that difficult at all, but the sentence structure often is. Combined with the strange twists it means you need to pay close attention not to overlook anything.

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roddy
Quote

the vocab is not that difficult at all, but the sentence structure often is.

I'm kind of getting used to it. One thing is, she does her dialogue odd sometimes: 

Quote

他一脸愁容。“心情不好吗”于是我随口问他。

 

If I remember the preface correctly, 荣华兽 is the author's favourite. 

 

 

 

 

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