Sunday, May 24, 2015

Book Review - "Pride and Prejudice"

This was my first Austen novel. I saw the 2005 movie adaptation starring Keira Knightley and my impression was that it was an artificially sweet romantic story bordering on the make-believe kind. Reading the novel has confirmed that first impression, and I've been wondering if I might have enjoyed the story more had I read it in my younger days.

For me, one redeeming element of the novel is Austen's attribution to Mr. Bennet of an acute sense of humor, other than her witty depiction of Mr. Collins' obsequious falsehood and Lady Catherine de Bourgh's self-important snobbishness. Overall, I find the novel in want of any meaningful themes, and the love story between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy seems to be no more convincing than a well-constructed fairy tale.

Friday, May 22, 2015

An Excellent NYROB Article on "Chin P'ing Mei" ("The Plum in the Golden Vase")

I've recently come across this NYROB article by Perry Link about the great classical Chinese novel Chin P'ing Mei (or The Plum in the Golden Vase"), which is such an interesting read that I had to share it (thanks to EastSouthNorthWest for the link). The writer also made some insightful comments about the difficulties in translation, as well as about the uniqueness of Chinese literature due to the written characters. These paragraphs relate to the latter:-

Let me put it the other way around. Novels were not the primary language art in imperial China. Measured by volume, "xi", translatable as “drama” or “opera,” would be in first place, and measured by beauty, calligraphy or poetry would be. Should we compare poetry across civilizations? If we do, classical Chinese poetry wins easily. The contest is almost unfair, because, as my students of Chinese language eventually come to see, the fundaments of language are different.

Indo-European languages, with their requirements that tense, number, gender, and part of speech be specified, and with the mandatory word inflections that the specifications entail, and with the extra syllables that the inflections add, just can’t achieve the same purity—a sense of terseness and expanse at the same time—that tenseless, numberless, voiceless, uninflected, and uninflectible Chinese characters can achieve. In a contest, one person has a butterfly net and the other a window screen. Emily Dickinson might have come to be known as the greatest poet in world history if she had written in classical Chinese. Should Westerners feel defensive that this was not the case? Far better just to inherit what we all have done, and leave it there.

Here's the link to the full article.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Book Review - "Une Vie" ("A Woman's Life") by Guy de Maupassant

Compared to Bel-Ami, this was a slower-paced read, but the writing is nonetheless beautiful. I was captivated by Maupassant's sensitivities in his descriptive skills in general.

It is a carefully crafted story of an aristocratic lady with a sheltered bring-up who has lived through shattered dreams about love, unhappiness in marriage, betrayals by husband, best friend and friends, disillusions with the mores of her times and disappointment with life in general. Maupassant writes with compassion where the protagonist is concerned, and with clear-sighted satire on the subject of religion and dogmas.

The setting is mainly in a seaside suburb of Rouen, with some diversion to the island of Corsica, all beautifully portrayed. The times are in the early 19th century.

I was totally transported by the writing, whether it was the twists and turns of the story, or the enthralling descriptions of thoughts and emotions, or the refined painting of places and scenes. My only complaint is that the ending seemed to be a bit abrupt.