Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Check Out Featured Authors at the LiterASIAN Festival September 21-23, 2018

Check out the 2018 Events Schedule

I'll be speaking at the September 23 (Sunday) Workshop "Turning to History for Inspiration: Writing the Historical Novel".

If you happen to be in Vancouver on September 21, 22 and 23, 2018, do come and join us at this great literary event!

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Museum Exhibition Featuring Qing Empresses

A friend of mine has sent me this WSJ article which announces an upcoming exhibition, opening Aug. 18, 2018, centered on prominent Qing Empresses at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., and another one opening in March in Washington DC.

The exhibition will showcase close to 200 items of sumptuous costumes, portraits, furnishings and other objects from the Beijing Palace Museum.

Included among the showcased Empresses is Empress Xiaozhuang (the heroine of The Green Phoenix), who is described in the article as one who "used her skills as a political strategist to protect the reigns of her son and grandson, both of whom assumed the throne as small children".

I'd say that's not an inaccurate description of my heroine. But I would also say that her most important contribution to history is her tireless championing for peace and humanity and advising her son and grandson to do the same, which sets her apart from other Empresses from the Qing dynasty.

Here's the article link.


Thursday, July 12, 2018

Book Review - The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham

This is a perspicacious study of characters whose fates are indubitably shaped by their respective aspirations, natural tendencies and outlook on life. Maugham doubles as the narrator and as one of the cast (a writer), and through his narration, readers are engaged with the intertwining stories of the various characters, who move between post-WWI Europe, America and India.

Isabel and Larry, two young American lovers who have known each other from childhood, discover the unbridgeable gulf between them before it’s too late, and break off their engagement. With her eyes set upon having an easy and well-provided-for life, Isabel marries a local wealthy heir, Gray, who adores her, but in her heart she can’t let go of penniless Larry. Larry, having witnessed his best friend killed in war trying to save him, goes off on a prolonged knapsack journey to Europe and then to India in quest for the true meaning of life. He has no regrets about breaking off with Isabel and gets on with living life his own way, aiming at cultivating his intellect and at self-perfection. When he decides to marry a childhood friend in an attempt to save her from a downward spiral, Isabel takes it upon herself to sabotage the intended union. Only when confronted by Maugham much later is she forced to confess her malice in the act.

Isabel’s uncle Elliott is a narcissistic socialite who hobnobs with the European aristocracy but is kindly disposed towards his sister and niece. He often dispenses meddling advice to people he is fond of, thinking he is doing them a great favor. In his eyes, Larry is all wrong for Isabel, because he is against making something out of himself. He thinks Gray is the obvious choice as a spouse for Isabel. Later, when Gray and Isabel are ruined by the 1929 stock market crash, Elliott lends them a generous helping hand. But at his senile age, even in his sickbed, Elliott still gets upset at not having been invited to a glamorous party.

I love how Maugham imparts his own wisdom about the philosophy of living through Larry in this richly drawn novel. This is a passage I like:

Nothing in the world is permanent, and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we’re still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it. If change is of the essence of existence, one would have thought it only sensible to make it the premise of our philosophy.

Overall, it is a realistic and thought-provoking story masterfully told, and is the best by Maugham I’ve read so far. I’m giving it 5 deserving stars!

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Song Dynasty Masterpiece "Along the River at the Qingming Festival"

This is a good presentation of the Zhang Zeduan 張擇端 masterpiece in handscroll Along the River at the Qingming Festival 清明上河圖, with English narration.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Book Review - "Michael Kohlhaas" by Heinrich von Kleist (translated by James Kirkup)

In 2013 I saw the film adaptation Michael Kohlhaas at the French Film Festival in Hong Kong and was very impressed with the powerful theme of one man’s obsessive quest for justice and the intensely haunting cinematography and acoustics.

Recently I saw a GR friend’s review of the novella and was lured to read it. Styled in a chronicle format, the novella is written with impassive detachment, which actually adds to the poignancy of the story that is based on a true event in 16th century Germany (the real person was named Hans Kohlhaas).

Michael Kohlhaas is a horse dealer leading a peaceful life on the border between Saxony and Brandenburg. One day when he takes his horses to a fair as usual, passing through territories that belong to a nobleman von Tronka, he is demanded for the first time to pay tolls and to show his pass. When he fails to produce a pass, his two black horses are forcibly detained as collateral. He leaves his servant behind to tend to the horses while he returns home to see about the issuance of a pass. In his absence, the two horses are made to work the fields and reduced to pitiable state, and his servant savagely beaten up. He tries to seek redress in a Saxony court but his charge is dismissed. His wife decides to help him take the petition to the ruler of Saxony, but is brutally wounded by the ruler’s guards and dies a little later.

Blinding rage spurs Kohlhaas to take revenge against von Tronka, which act balloons into insurgence against the state. The aristocrats decide that Kohlhaas must be punished for his outrageous actions, despite the attempt by Martin Luther and the ruler of Brandenburg to save him.

The climax comes at the very end, which involves a piece of secret paper that Kohlhaas holds, that concerns the fate of the ruler of Saxony.

The novella begs the question: what do you do when you find that the written law doesn’t protect your rights and interests?

I found this novella to be a compelling read and am giving it 4 stars, although I would say that the 2013 movie starring Mads Mikkelsen is even better.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Kingfisher Feather Hair Ornaments

In Chapter One of The Green Phoenix, there is mention of Bumbutai's wedding coronet, which is made of blue kingfisher feather inlays. Here are images of two such headdresses:-

The use of kingfisher feather in hair ornaments has a long history in China. Here's an article that gives a little historical information and describes the process of the craft of "tian tsui" (點翠) :-

China Blues: The Ancient Art of Tian Tsui.