Monday, August 24, 2015

Book Review - "The Good Earth" by Pearl S. Buck

This is a quietly told story of a Chinese farmer's life in the pre-revolution days. My feeling is that I liked it a lot, but not enough to rate it a full 4 stars (the rating would be 3.7 stars).

It is a heartfelt account of life in the grassroots society of that era, with its own epoch-relevant values, superstitions, class distinction and sexist attitude, not any dissimilar to that depicted in other Chinese literary works relating to that era (Ba Jin's The Family, Autumn, Spring comes to mind). What sets this novel apart from those Chinese works is perhaps the absence of bitterness in the narrator's voice, which comes in a calm, surreal tone. Why could the author write in such a tone? It is because she was a foreign visitor living in China only for a temporary period of time. But as a story, it is superbly structured and told with credibly indigenous parlance.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Book Review - "The Woman in White" by Wilkie Collins

I'm giving this novel 3.5 stars. The story started out very promising, but then towards the last one-third, especially the denouement, it got a bit drawn out and trying on my patience.

Overall, the plot is very intricate and saturated with well thought out details and the characters are vividly drawn. The writing style can be somewhat cumbersome though, but not unusual of authors of that time period. I do like the sensitivity and compassion towards women that Collins displays throughout his writing. There is also a subtle tint of humor in his description of the two Italian characters (the hearty Professor Pesca and the abominable Count Fosco) and the quirky and self-indulgent Mr. Frederick Fairlie.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Review of "Fated and Fateless" by Tracy A. Fischer for Readers' Favorite

A recent 4-star review of Fated and Fateless by Tracy A. Fischer for Readers' Favorite:-

"Love and grief, good and bad, wealth and poverty. The true yin and yang of life is at the heart of Fated and Fateless, the newest novel by Alice Poon. Spanning four decades in colonial Hong Kong, Fated and Fateless follows characters Wendy Kwan and Diana Lee on their journeys to adulthood. Childhood friends in the 1950s, a falling-out in their teenage years turns them into life-long enemies. Wendy, who rises from abject poverty in a true rags to riches story, pulls herself up through the ranks of corporate Hong Kong through her own hard work, dedication and intelligence. Diana, given too much from the time of birth, finds that her illusions of wealth, sophistication and glamour are not what they seem, and are not always there when she needs them. This tale of two women’s wildly divergent paths is somewhat of a cautionary tale in terms of depending too much on what others can give you instead of on what you can earn on your own.

Alice Poon’s newest novel is a short, easy read. I especially enjoy books in which I can learn about countries and cultures through the prose of the novel, and this is definitely one of these books. The lifestyles and customs of those living in 1950s to 1980s Hong Kong are elaborated upon delicately in this novel. I appreciated that the descriptions came organically throughout the book; in no way did I feel like information was being thrust upon me. I look forward to future works by this author, and hope that she continues to center her work around Hong Kong."

Friday, July 31, 2015

My Translation of Paul Verlaine's "Il Pleure dans Mon Coeur"

This poem is from Paul Verlaine's 1874 collection Romances sans Paroles.

The Original (Il Pleure dans Mon Coeur):

Il pleure dans mon coeur
Comme il pleut sur la ville;
Quelle est cette langueur
Qui pénètre mon coeur?

Ô bruit doux de la pluie
Par terre et sur les toits!
Pour un coeur qui s'ennuie
Ô le chant de la pluie!

Il pleure sans raison
Dans ce coeur qui s'écoeure.
Quoi! nulle trahison? . . .
Ce deuil est sans raison.

C'est bien la pire peine
De ne savoir pourquoi
Sans amour et sans haine
Mon coeur a tant de peine!

My Translation:

Tears fall in my heart,
Like it rains o’er the city;
What is this dullness
That cuts through my heart?

Oh soft murmuring rain,
On the ground and on the roof!
For a heart that is saddened,
Oh the droning psalm of rain!

Tears fall without reason,
In this heart that is disheartened.
What! It’s not even lovers’ lies?
This dolor is without reason.

It’s by far the worst pain
To know not the reason;
Feeling no love and no bane,
Yet my heart is so full of aches.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

My Translation of Paul Verlaine's Poem "Clair de Lune"

The Original ("Clair de Lune"):

Votre âme est un paysage choisi
Que vont charmant masques et bergamasques
Jouant du luth et dansant et quasi
Tristes sous leurs déguisements fantasques.

Tout en chantant sur le mode mineur
L’amour vainqueur et la vie opportune,
Ils n’ont pas l’air de croire à leur bonheur
Et leur chanson se mêle au clair de lune.

Au calme clair de lune triste et beau,
Qui fait rêver les oiseaux dans les arbres
Et sangloter d’extase les jets d’eau,
Les grands jets d’eau sveltes parmi les marbres.

My Translation ("Moonlight"):

Your soul is a landscape fair and fine
Where charming masqueraders swarm
Playing the lute and dancing and being almost
Sad beneath their fanciful costume.

Singing together in a minor key
Of love conquests and the life of risks,
In their fortune they do not seem to believe;
And their song melts into the lunar beam.

The quiet moon beam, sad and beautiful,
That lulls the birds in the trees to dream
And makes the fountain jets sob in a spree,
The tall slender jets that soothe the marbles.

This poem is from Paul Verlaine’s 1869 collection of poems “Fetes Galantes”. Paul Verlaine was a French poet associated with the Symbolist movement.

The poem inspired Claude Debussy’s famous piano piece “Clair de Lune”, the third movement of Suite Bergamasque. (Richard Clayderman's rendition of "Clair de Lune")

[Note: The word “bergamasques” in the poem refers to a rustic dance (of the buffoonery kind) originating in Bergamo, Italy. The dance, also known as “bergamask”, is apparently the dance that the clown Bottom refers to in Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream.]

I love the various moods that this poem evokes, ranging from a mix of gaiety, melancholy and insouciance in the first two stanzas, to a sense of redemption in the last line of the 2nd stanza, and to peace and harmony in the last stanza.

My interpretation of the poem is that the poet is doing some soul searching under the moonlight. He likens his soul to a pretty landscape, which invites all kinds of superficial distractions (masquerades and dancing and singing) and temptations (love conquests and the life of risks), but which is often engulfed in a sense of emptiness (in their fortune they do not seem to believe). But somehow, the soul’s voice finds an audience in Nature (And their song melts into the lunar beam). Peace of mind can readily be found if he can abandon himself to Nature’s embrace (the entire last stanza, where the quiet moon beam symbolizes Nature).