Monday, June 1, 2020

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Gwendalyn's Books Review of Tales of Ming Courtesans

It is Day #6 to book release in the U.S., Canada and Asia, and I woke up to this electrifying review on Gwendalyn's Books Blog!

Please allow me to share the salient part of the review:

"This eloquent saga is steeped in real life historical people, living in the turbulent times in between the Ming, and the Qing dynasties, where social classes were defined and woman had little or no voice of their own.

Tales of Ming Courtesans is a richly textured, mesmerising and captivating story that is full of rich history and the most compelling and intriguing characters.....

I can see why this talented author is loved by so many. Poon’s appealing way of weaving fact and fiction, along with her absorbing seamless narration. This is a book that you will find yourself contemplating the lives and struggles of these memorable women, long after you close the book.

A meticulously researched book that captures the historical elements and traditions of the Chinese people. This is a masterpiece of a tale, that depicts the economics and the cultural mind set that was placed on woman during this era. The resilience and the quiet but powerful strength, that these ladies show within the book is nothing short of motivational.

The plot twist with betrayals and longing and much heartache. Poon knows how to transport the reader, with her richly descriptive atmospheric imagery. The lush and vibrant, historical world building is stunning. An emotional book that is quick paced from start to finish."

This review makes all my hard work worthwhile :)

Monday, May 25, 2020

HFVBT Book Tour Kicks Off Today!

The Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour for my new novel Tales of Ming Courtesans starts today and will continue until June 12, 2020.

Entries are now open for a paperback giveaway. Enter to win a copy!

HFVBT Book Tour Page (scroll down to near the bottom)

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Book Review - "Orlando" by Virginia Woolf

Before reading this Woolf novel, I had previously read A Room of One’s Own (long essay) and To the Lighthouse (novel) and had liked both.

Orlando was a remarkable piece of satirical fiction which deals with the inter-connected themes of desire and aspiration, memory and illusion, and gender disparities and sexual orientation. The author takes readers on a 300-year exploratory journey through Orlando’s biographer’s (the narrator) viewpoint, beginning at late Elizabethan age right up to the year 1928.

When we first meet Orlando, he is a handsome boy born into wealth and nobility in England with literary ambitions. His “life-time” adventures include unrequited love for a Russian princess, let-down by a famous poet who ridicules his poetic work, acting as ambassador to Constantinopole and witnessing an insurrection, a spontaneous sex change into a woman, living with gypsies, return to his/her homeland in search of love and literary fame, and ultimately finding both after many experiments.

I think this must be the most bizarre novel I’ve ever read in terms of subject matter. It does remind me in some ways of Voltaire’s Candide in the sense of imaginary world building. This novel was hardly a page-turner, as the writing is at times dense, at times florid and descriptive, and I found it hard to follow the author’s train of thought. As much as I’ve ascribed those themes mentioned above to the novel, I’m left with much doubt as to what central message the author was really trying to convey, although I could detect her mockery of Orlando's (the portrayal of whom is supposedly based on Woolf's lover Vita Sackville-West) mediocre literary skills.

My conclusion is that I liked the book, but didn’t love it. I’m giving the novel 3 stars.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

China Underground Interview

Matteo Damiani, an Italian Sinologist and founder of the media websites China Underground and CinaOggi, asked many interesting questions about my new novel Tales of Ming Courtesans.

Link to the Interview.


Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Book Review - Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

I had picked up this novel at a library book sale several years ago and finally got to reading it. I am not a huge fan of WWII novels. This particular novel attracted my attention mainly due to the fact that the author had lived through the war in France.

The novel consists of the first two parts of a planned five-part epic, which the author was never able to finish as she was arrested shortly after completing those two parts and taken to Auschwitz to be executed.

Part One (The Storm) is a chronicling of events that took place during the German invasion of Paris in the summer of 1940. We meet a spectrum of French nationals ranging from an aristocratic family headed by a museum curator, a famous writer and his mistress, a wealthy hedonist, a banker, to a working class couple and their soldier son, a priest and a whore. The author presents her piercing observation of their differing mentalities and worldviews, mostly dictated by their social status and possessions. In their individual struggle to survive, they are collectively forced to endure physical and emotional upheavals that the war inflicts on them.

Part Two (Dolce) tells the narratives of three families in the village of Bussy during the German occupation from spring to July 1, 1941. The three families represent three different social classes: the aristocrats, the middle-class and the peasant class, and each holds its own values and attitude towards the enemy – the Germans. Through depicting their interaction with the Germans, the author shows us the aristocrats’ pomposity and hypocrisy, the middle-class’s down-to-earth pragmatism and the peasants’ self-righteous effrontery. Woven into this are two thwarted love affairs.

Perhaps this quote captures what in essence was the author’s view on human nature:

Important events – whether serious, happy or unfortunate – do not change a man’s soul, they merely bring it into relief, just as a strong gust of wind reveals the true shape of a tree when it blows off all its leaves.

Overall, Part One was episodic in style, while Part Two was slow-moving and overly descriptive. The two parts read like two separate novellas. Nonetheless the author has keen insights into the human psyche. It’s unsettling to think of the author facing death herself shortly after the writing ends. I’m giving it 3.4 stars. 

Sunday, April 12, 2020

My Translation of Du Mu's Poem "Spring in Jiangnan"

Tang poet Du Mu (803 – 852), one of my favorite poets, wrote the poem “Spring in Jiangnan” to celebrate the spring charm of Jiangnan (the most prosperous region with stunning landscapes located south of the Yangtze River in ancient China).

In celebration of the coming of spring and to provide a comforting distraction to my blog readers from the ongoing pandemic gloom, I’ve attempted a translation of this beautiful poem. Hope you’ll like it.

江南春 -  杜牧


My Translation:

Spring in Jiangnan by Du Mu

Birdsongs traverse miles of greens and pinks,
Lapped in rivers and rustic hills, pub banners wink;
Hordes of monasteries bequeathed from dynasties long gone,
Countless pavilions, now washed in misty rain.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Book Review - "Fathers and Sons" by Ivan Turgenev

As far as classic Russian literature is concerned, I’ve so far read Tolstoy (War & Peace, Anna Karenina, The Death of Ivan Ilyich and The Kreutzer Sonata), Dostoyevsky (Crime and Punishment) and Pasternak (Doctor Zhivago). I liked Tolstoy and Pasternak a lot but was not a big fan of Dostoyevsky’s (but might still read more of his works). Now I can add Turgenev to the “likes” list.

The story is set in 1860s Russia and weaves together the friendship between two young graduates Bazarov and Arkady, the father-and-son relationships in their respective families, and the unsettling effects of their romantic pursuits on the friendship, against a backdrop of Russian social and political reforms. The narration flows in a languid pace, but the main characters’ psychological and emotional journeys are well drawn, evincing the author’s insights into human relationships.

Bazarov is a headstrong, smart and self-sufficient nihilist and up-and-coming medical doctor who puts his ideals before all other things, only to have his cool façade dissolved when he falls in love with a sophisticated and mature woman. Arkady, on the other hand, is diffident and compassionate, and covertly loves the arts but would not admit it in front of his mentor and best friend Bazarov. At first Arkady thinks he is attracted to the same woman that Bazarov proclaims to love, but later realizes that he actually loves her younger sister. Both youngsters, in their unhappy moments, find refuge in their loving families and the ready embrace of their doting fathers, despite the generational values gap. The story ends unexpectedly on a tragic note.

It is a simple but beautiful story that’s worth 4 full stars. The version I read is translated by C. J. Hogarth, and was probably not the best of translations.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Collection of Blog Posts Re: Chinese Poets and Poetry

In my upcoming novel Tales of Ming Courtesans, not only are some main characters celebrated poets and poetesses, but also its background is subtly adorned with the art of Chinese poetry. I thought it appropriate to refresh my blog readers' memory as well as to inform new visitors of my previous blog posts that touch on the subject of Chinese poets and poetry.

Here is a collection of fourteen blog posts dating from 2009 to present (including my translations of select poems):-

Link to Blog Posts Labeled "Chinese Poetry".

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Book Review - "The Girl With No Face" by M. H. Boroson

I’m usually not drawn to the historical fantasy genre (with the exception of Chinese wuxia novels) but the title of this book had me intrigued. I guess I was just curious to find out what kind of Chinese mythology the American author was so enamored with as to come up with a whole series based on it (this is book #2).

From the start, I was wrapped up in the intricate plot and gradually became charmed by the upright Daoist heroine Xian Li-lin. The plot did branch out into numerous extraneous but interesting tangents, but in the end the snarled web of threads eventually became disentangled in a satisfying denouement.

The general impression I got from reading was a blend of vampire film, Disney cartoon and wuxia action flick.

The one thing I was most amazed about was the author’s intimate knowledge of Chinese religious and traditional beliefs, myths and customs. What touched a chord with me was the sensitive and respectful way he handled the cultural details that were not native to him. His thorough research of late 1800’s San Francisco Chinatown also shone through.

My favorite quote from the book: “I don’t see how you can expect me to honor your people’s ways while you’re expressing scorn for mine, Mrs. Wei.”

Overall, it was an entertaining read. I’m giving it 4.3 stars.