Sunday, March 1, 2015

Book Review: "To the Lighthouse" by Virginia Woolf




This was my first Woolf novel, having recently read her non-fiction title “A Room of One’s Own”, which is an extended essay in fictional narrative form and which gave me a taste of her writing style.

Still, I have to admit that in the first tenth of the novel I had a slight problem adjusting to her “stream of consciousness” style, often having to turn back the pages to get a grip on who’s saying what. Once I got adapted to it, I found that I became sort of addicted to being transported into the hearts and minds of the characters, who are just members of an ordinary family and their friends, each trying to cope with changes in his/her life.

The outstanding skill of Woolf is her way of using affecting imageries throughout the novel, at times to paint an atmospheric background (particularly in Part 2), and at other times to inject thoughts and emotions into her characters. The end result is a picture-perfect story that is created out of a non-dramatic, even mundane narrative concerning the everyday life of the Ramsay family and their friends.

After putting down the book, I found that the words are no longer there, but the imageries have stuck.

  

Saturday, February 21, 2015

An Update

Recently I've joined another social media network: LinkedIn. This seems a good place to get in touch with writers' groups and keep abreast of news in the publishing industry.

So, right now these are the social media platforms that I have a presence on:

(1) Twitter (account name: @alicepoon1)

(2) Google+ (Personalized URL)

(3) Youtube (Personalized URL)

(4) Goodreads

(5) LinkedIn

My reading has slowed down in the last couple of months as in late December 2014 I embarked on my writing project, which is a historical novel about the life and times of an influential figure in the early Qing Dynasty. During my research, I discovered that her influence spanned the reigns of three Qing Emperors and felt that historians and literary writers have not done her justice at all. My novel attempts to explore, from a humanistic angle, her emotional and intellectual world and her relationships with those closest to her. I've finished about one-third of the planned length of 100,000 words.


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Book Review: "Bel Ami" by Guy de Maupassant




This was my first Maupassant novel and it impressed me as a brilliantly told story about how a journalist-turned-parvenu of low-born parentage attained status, wealth and power by sleazy means in Third Republic France.

In a witty and crisp style, the story flows smoothly along as the protagonist jumps from one woman’s embrace to the next, gathering each time more worldly benefits like career advancement, social recognition, wealth and status. His only weapon of conquest is his youth and his handsome face, hence his nickname “Bel Ami”, apart from a heart of steel. Maupassant sketches with virtuosity each of his cold, calculated social-climbing ventures with smirking irony, barely hiding his own scornful snide at the Parisian society’s bourgeois-capitalist immorality and journalistic farce.

After reading the first few chapters, I thought the protagonist seemed to bear resemblance to Eugene de Rastignac in Balzac’s “Le Pere Goriot” and Julien Sorel in Stendhal’s “The Red and the Black”. When I reached the end though, I had to conclude that Georges Duroy is the true heartless, predatory and hypocritical villain of the three.

This novel, being a 19th century work of realist fiction, deals with themes that are just as contemporary as they are historical. It makes one mull over the connection between today’s unbridled capitalism and societies’ lack of scruples.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Book Review - The Secret History of the Mongol Queens




In my opinion, the author deserves even more credit for this book than "Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World", simply because historians tend to play down women's contribution to shaping the world in official records. His mere efforts to glue together a chunk of Mongolian history related to women from bits and pieces he uncovered during research deserve commendation. By presenting such important historical facts, he gives readers better insight into Genghis Khan's philosophy about maintaining the correct balance between male and female in the organization of life based on the religion of Mother Earth and the Eternal Blue Sky.

The accounts of life events and political marriages of Genghis Khan's daughters like Alaqai, Al-Altun, Tolai and Tumelun are fascinating, as is the story related to Khutulun (the great great granddaughter of Genghis Khan), the All White Princess who fought like a man alongside her father and who never lost a single wrestling match. Even more gripping is the drama of the gritty circumstances that Queen Manduhai the Wise (a descendant from Genghis Khan's lineage) had to face when she tried to keep a Borijin male heir alive and healthy in order to put him on the throne in a desperate attempt to hold the crumbling Mongol Empire together, and of how she succeeded.

I was amazed to learn in the Epilogue that the Moghul emperor Shah Jahan who built the Taj Mahal was a distant heir of Genghis Khan and Borte, and that the Taj Mahal was designed to resemble a Mongolian "ger" (tent). Another surprise is that the story of the Mongolian princess Khutulun had inspired Francois Petis de la Croix to write a fable with the character "Turandot", which in turn inspired Giacomo Puccini's opera "Turandot" and Friedrich von Schiller's German play "Turandot, Prinzessin von China"!

Weatherford's dramatic narrative makes this book another engrossing read after "Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World".


Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Kindle Version of "Land and the Ruling Class in Hong Kong"


Happy New Year to all readers of my blog! I wish you good health, peace and joy in 2015!

I'm pleased to announce that the publisher of the Second English Edition of "Land and the Ruling Class in Hong Kong" has decided to produce a Kindle Version of the book, which will be made available shortly.

For the Kindly Version status update or purchase order inquiry, kindly contact Simon.Sui@enrichculture.com.

If you are interested in checking out my novel "Fated and Fateless", just click on this link.


Monday, December 22, 2014

Book Review: A Tale of Two Cities




This was my first foray into Charles Dickens' works and I went in with much excitement and perhaps too much by way of expectations. The book took me much longer than expected to finish. Throughout the novel (at least in the first three-quarters), I failed to feel empathy with any of the characters. It was only when I neared the end that I became more absorbed with the plot twists. I would be lying if I said I wasn't deeply moved by the story's ending.

Was it the wordiness of the novel that put me off? Maybe not, because I've read and liked other wordy authors. I think I would blame it on the author's slightly going overboard with sarcasm and sentimentalism in case of this particular novel. As well, his characterization could have gone a little deeper with Sydney Carton. Having said that, I still like his ingenuity in patiently building up suspense to climactic heights near the very end. On balance, I am inclined to give this novel three out of five stars.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Book Review: Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World




This book gives me a whole new perspective on 13th and 14th century world history. It also helps me understand a little more about the Yuan Dynasty in Chinese history (e.g. I learned that it was probably the outbreak of the bubonic plague that led the Mongolian rulers to become paranoid and begin to alienate and repress the Chinese population whom they believed to have been the source of the horrible pestilence).

I'm really glad that I found this non-fiction title after having read Urgunge Onon's "The Secret History of the Mongols: The Life and Times of Chinggis Khan". The latter is supposedly an English translation from the original text written in Mongolian in the 13th century about Genghis Khan's life by someone close to him, and contains mostly dialogues and descriptive passages. Using that original document as a basis, Weatherford gives a far more coherent and illuminating account of all the life episodes set in historical context, while shedding light on the enormous proximate impact and far-reaching influence that this formidable leader's actions and, to a greater or lesser extent, those of his successors, had on human history.

The simple flowing style of writing makes this book an easy read. It is interesting as it is educational.