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In this entrancing story of spiritual adventure, a Westerner in Peking seeks the mystery at the heart of the Forbidden City. He takes as a tutor in Chinese the young Belgian René Leys, who claims to be in the know about strange goings-on in the Imperial Palace: love affairs, family quarrels, conspiracies that threaten the very existence of the empire. But whether truth-tel ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published July 31st 2003 by NYRB Classics
(first published 1971)
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My edition of this book, an old 'Quartet Encounters' (they specialized in Euro lit that wasn't published in the U.S. or U.K., and many of their titles are now published by NYRB), features a blurb from Publishers Weekly on how the novel "probes the frustrations of man's inability to grasp the unknown." But I must disrespectfully disagree, because if the book was that, I would have been bored stupid, and also not able to concentrate, because quotes from every important philosopher since Kant would ...more
After reading the recent Wesleyan University edition of Steles, which, for me, is certainly one of the most fascinating texts of early French modern poetry, I immediately got ahold of Rene Leys. Leys is a fairly well known piece of French literature which has developed something of a cult following as one of the forgotten masterpieces of early 20th century writing. The atmosphere and the general sense of incompleteness that pervades the text has been likened to Kafka. I suppose I should have pai ...more
Pierre Ryckmans, whom I admire more day by day as I read his essays collected as The Hall of Uselessness, took his pen name of Simon Leys from the title character of this book, and one wondered why, and who Victor Segalen is.
Rene Leys is a well-wrought, innovative, and consistently compelling novel about the way China can capture a westerner's imagination, a certain kind of westerner, open to the culture and history of the ancient kingdom, and with a touch of romance to the soul.
The novel imme ...more
I can't even begin to describe how thoroughly enthralled I was by this novel. (And how happy I was to not have read the introduction before reading the book.) An entrancing account of China in 1911 from a European perspective, this is a book of being on the outside looking in, and of romanticizing the unknown. And was absolutely a pleasure to read. Recommended very highly, this is the best fiction I've read in quite a while!