This book's cover sports a suggestive subtitle: "Following Mother Teresa in search of an authentic life", I imagine that an unsuspecting reader who pi...moreThis book's cover sports a suggestive subtitle: "Following Mother Teresa in search of an authentic life", I imagine that an unsuspecting reader who picks this book in the Spirituality aisle in a bookstore would probably think that it is one of the seemingly endless books extolling the virtues of 'The Living Saint of Calcutta'. If so, after reading this memoir, he or she will either feel surprised, justified or appalled, depending on what their preconceived notions of the woman whom thousands of her sisters simply called 'Mother' was. According to Mary Johnson, a.k.a Sister Donata, who spent twenty years as a 'spouse of the crucified Christ' in the Missionaries of Charity, Mother was never this woman who 'had no worries and always shone with joy', as others in her order has claimed, instead, she was sometimes 'angry, confused, worried, disappointed and lonely' --- and liked candy --- in other words, she was human, subject to the same human frailties like the rest of us.
One of the most striking of these human qualities is her capacity of doubting the existence of the very God that she so fiercely served, something that only came out in a book written by the priest who was her spiritual confidante years after her death (but prior to her beatification). "Where is my faith?", Mother Teresa wrote, "--- even deep down, right in, there is nothing but emptiness & darkness... --- I have no faith. --- I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd my heart --- & make me suffer untold agony. So many unanswered questions live within me --- I am afraid to uncover them --- because of the blasphemy". This doubt tormented her until the day she died. Who would have known? Those who want to keep her on a saintly pedestal downplay this life-long crisis of faith and spin it into a 'trial of faith', a sort of a final obstacle course towards sainthood. But Mary Johnson, who had extensively studied and taught Mother Teresa's theology as a novice mistress, suspects that "Mother's refusal to uncover those questions may cause her darkness to linger". And not only did this unresolved issue caused great personal suffering for her, but it also gave her an idea that "her feelings of 'torture and pain' pleases God. Over the years, she encouraged her spiritual daughters to become 'victims of divine love'. Mother often tells the sick, 'Suffering is the kiss of Jesus' ". This translated into deliberately wearing sandals that are too small for years until her toes became deformed, harsh 'discipline' (self-scourging with knotted ropes and spiked armbands), deliberate sleep deprivation and other 'sacrifices' for her nuns, and --- if these reports here https://www.facebook.com/missionaries... are accurate --- substandard, even inhumane care in her hospices. If human suffering, even easily preventable ones, pleases God, why should terminal cancer patients get powerful analgesics that can relieve their pain?*
The most interesting part in this book for me is Mary's description of the effect of such ethos on the nuns, including herself. Starved of even simple friendships (the sisters may only love their 'crucified spouse'), some of the sisters, including Sister Donata, got into sexual relationships with other nuns and priests. Required by their vow to obey blindly, some nuns, especially the superiors, became harsh, petty enforcers of dogma and authority. Sisters were encouraged to snitch on priests who betrayed even the slightest deviation from the approved party line --- and on other sisters. Curtains in the basement of a mission house became a fiercely contested isssue. On the other hand, a known sexual predator was allowed to take final vows, a good priest's career was almost destroyed for nothing, and the door towards higher theological education for the sisters was slammed shut because "statistics showed the more education the sisters receive, the more likely they were to leave".
"So much depends on the stories we tell ourselves, and on the questions we ask, or fail to ask".
* There are refutations, or at least justifications, for these accusations. Honestly, I don't know how valid these criticisms are, but if true, how appalling! (less)
There is a lot to be liked in this debut novel, set in post-Tiananmen Shanghai, where people still cook in communal kitchens, personal phones (landlin...moreThere is a lot to be liked in this debut novel, set in post-Tiananmen Shanghai, where people still cook in communal kitchens, personal phones (landlines!) are a rare privilege, and private enterprises are just beginning to sprout like bamboo shoots after a spring rain. Qiu Xiaolong, a Shanghai born-and-bred émigré, ably --- and at times evocatively --- captures the sights and sounds of his native city for a foreign audience, while sprinkling his narrative (originally written in English) with just enough tidbits of Tang/Song poetry and allusions to The Dream of The Red Chamber (one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature --- five if you count the much-maligned The Golden Lotus or Jin Pingmei --- and also the one that I never seem to be able to finish) to give authentic cultural touches to what is essentially pulp fiction. In this respect, he is similar to wuxia writers such as Jin Yong and Liang Yusheng who purposely embed nuggets of Chinese culture in their sprawling swordsman epics. As Qiu writes in English, he explains these allusions, but restrains himself so that they don't turn into clunky info dumps that clutter up the police procedural routine of the story. That said, the police procedural aspect is the weakest part of this novel. The mystery is hardly mysterious and Inspector Chen treats it almost like an afterthought, to be indulged in after he is done with his poetic, gastronomic and romantic pursuits. Likewise, Qiu seems to be much more interested in writing a social commentary about, among others, 'educated youths' during the Cultural Revolution, corruption among high-ranking cadres and urban communal housing, than a mystery. The resolution of the tepid murder 'mystery', as well as Inspector Chen's political problems, is extremely abrupt and seems to come from nowhere. Obviously, Qiu is trying to make a political point here, but it seems to be a pretty ham-fisted one.
The main ingredients of this first novel ---Tang poetry, Chinese culture, both traditional and modern, social commentary on contemporary China, mystery, romance --- are interesting and hopefully Qiu will be able to make more of them in subsequent books. (less)
This is Jess' review of a book that she had just finished.
Hi, this is Jess. I'm 10 years old now. So i tend to read more harder books like these ones....moreThis is Jess' review of a book that she had just finished.
Hi, this is Jess. I'm 10 years old now. So i tend to read more harder books like these ones. This is the series i'm OFFICIALLY addicted to now. I like the story, it has a lot of mysteries, adventures, and action! Now, let's get started with the review!: "There will be three, kin of your kin, who hold the power of the stars in their paws." This is the mysterious prophecy shown to Firestar, Leader of Thunderclan. So, this book is about 3 cats who are destined to have mysterious and special powers. They just left the kit (Kitten) nursery and they are now starting off their training as Apprentices. Hollypaw, (When they become apprentices, the clan starts calling them with a 'paw' at the back of their names.) Has taken on a different route. Instead of training as a normal apprentice, she decides to be a Medicine Cat (Doctor cat :D) apprentice. While her brothers take on the normal apprentice training. However, one of her brothers are blind, so he thinks the clan treats him more poorly than his siblings. This cat is called Jaypaw. He has the most amazing ability of all. He can see into other cats' dreams, and sometimes, he can read the feelings of other cats. (AKA, Mind reading :P). But, since he is blind, he cannot keep up with the other apprentices, because his lack of sight. BUT, his hearing and smelling skills make up for it. So, Starclan (The group of deceased warriors watching over them.) has set out a new path for him. He must become a medicine cat, since he also can detect wounds very clearly from at least a meter away, and he is very familiar with healing herbs like Horsetail, Coltsfoot, and catmint. So he tells Firestar, (His Grandpa,) if he can become a medicine cat apprentice, since Hollypaw has resigned. So from now on, he is Leafpool's (Current Medicine cat) reliable, but stubborn apprentice. And so, that's about all the interesting things that happens in this AWESOME book.
Quotes that i like:
"I think that you were destined to become a Medicine Cat." -Leafpool to Jaypaw
"Let it be some other cat's destiny! I want to be out in the forest, hunting and fighting for my clan. You're just like Brightheart, always treating me differently just because i'm blind!" -Jaypaw to Leafpool
"We all have suffered. But we must look forward, not back. Newleaf (Spring) has come. Our territories are warming up and filling with prey." -Squirrelflight, Leafpool's sister, and mother to the three destined cats.
...And, that's about it for my review! Thanks for reading! ;)(less)
Jin Yong's novels are fascinating on several different levels. John Hamm, the author of this book, the only in-depth study of the “Jin Yong Phenomenon...moreJin Yong's novels are fascinating on several different levels. John Hamm, the author of this book, the only in-depth study of the “Jin Yong Phenomenon” in English, enumerates some of the qualities that make Jin Yong’s fiction appealing to its audience and particularly interesting as a subject:
"Jin Yong’s work is lauded for its panoramic and emotionally charged engagement with Chinese history; its seemingly inexhaustible inventiveness and the dazzling complexity of its plotting; its range of vivid, multifaceted characters and psychologically adventurous exploration of human relationships; its integration of modern sensibility and Western literary techniques with the inherited material of the martial arts genre; its reinvention, through the rejection of Europeanized elements, of Chinese vernacular prose; its ability to wed a breadth of learning and profound insights on life with the most crowd-pleasing action and melodrama; and its effectiveness in accessibly introducing Chinese culture and values to a socially, geographically, and generationally diverse readership, including such a “disadvantaged” elements as the younger generation of Chinese overseas."
Hamm uses media studies approach to investigate how Jin Yong's intertwined roles as both author and publisher, as well as owner and chief editor of the Ming Pao Daily, where the stories were initially serialized, impacted the dissemination of the novels and the propagation of the ideas therein. Apparently, Jin Yong was also a canny newspaperman/businessman who was able to use the enormous popularity of his serialized fiction as a financial leverage to establish a publishing empire, which in turn he used to promote not just the novels, but also the films, TV serials, comic books and other products based on them. But this was not Jin Yong's sole agenda. Hamm argues that from the earliest days of Ming Pao in the late 1950s, Jin Yong had "used his unique role as both author and publisher to shape the conceptual contexts for the acceptance of the martial arts fiction and to open the possibility of his own work's serving as a bearer of literary and cultural capital." This is remarkable as Ming Pao Daily began its life as a tabloid in which "extracts from the international wire services jostle for attention with photographs of bathing beauties and sensationalistic reports of car wrecks, abductions and crimes of passion." Hardly a promising platform for the promotion of works projected to bear literary and cultural capital. Not to mention that the Chinese literary establishment and the communist government had both declared martial arts fiction to be "poisonous weeds" steeped in the feudal past. Indeed, Hamm later points out that many of the decisions taken by Ming Pao's founders in its early days were made in response to changing social circumstances and market opportunities rather than according to any preexisting vision. However, Ming Pao subsequently evolved into a prestigious paper, largely thanks to Jin Yong's influential editorials on mainland politics and its staunch opposition to the Maoist regime. Jin Yong began to position his publications, including his martial arts fiction, as a repository of traditional Chinese values and culture --- "a Chinese cultural nationalism that defined itself in large measure against the excesses of the mainland's Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution." Perhaps it is more plausible to regard this era as the starting point for Jin Yong's didactic project, when the urgency of preserving traditional Chinese culture and values became more pressing under the pressure of attacks against them in the mainland.
The continuous revisions of the novels through the following decades (there were three major revisions, the last finished in the 90s) were aimed at consolidating their position as literary classics, with further polishing of the prose, more refined characterizations and the inclusion of additional cultural and historical allusions. This "canonization" process, actively encouraged by Jin Yong and his publishers, reached new heights in the 80s and 90s with the publication of the Collected Works of Jin Yong both in Taiwan and the mainland, whose governments had previously banned the novels for various ideological reasons. In the mainland, this process was not entirely free of controversy, as evidenced by the "Wang Shuo incident" in the late 90s, in which China's literary enfant terrible, famous for his profanity-laced "hoodlum literature", declared that Jin Yong's fiction is one of the "four great vulgarities of our time" (the other three "vulgarities" are the "Four Heavenly Kings" of Canto-pop music, Jacky Chan's action films and Qiong Yao soap operas). Hamm thinks that Wang Shuo's criticism stemmed from the North/South geocultural division that runs through China --- "It is their identity both as southerners and as products of the foreign-tainted periphery that condemns Jin Yong and his peers to the category of the "four great vulgarities." Despite the very public run-in with Wang Shuo, the general trajectory of the "canonization" process in the mainland seems to have been largely positive, with the acceptance of the works and the author himself into prestigious academic and literary cycles, albeit with some qualifications. Hamm suggests that this might have something to do with Jin Yong's rapprochement with the post Deng Xiaoping (“I have read your novels.”) mainland regime, but he admits that the Jin Yong phenomenon was "no longer nourished principally by the Ming Pao and Yuanliu conglomerates and other institutions with direct commercial interest, but riding free and evidently self-sustaining on the seas of media attention."
Besides looking at the Jin Yong phenomenon through the media studies angle, Hamm also analyzes six major novels, including the patriotic epics The Eagle-Shooting Heroes (Shediao yingxiong zhuan) and its sequel, The Giant Eagle and its Companion (Shendiao xialu) --- these are official, but what awkwardly translated titles! --- and two fascinating late novels, The Smiling, Proud Wanderer (Xiaoao jianghu) and The Duke of Mount Deer (Luding ji).
Hamm interprets these novels as literature of exile and displacement, largely set in pivotal moments in Chinese history, usually during a dynastic crisis, which eventually ended in foreign subjugation. In a sense, these stories are attempts to make sense of China's long and complex history, in which a proud nation is more often than not had to endure humiliating colonization by non-Han "barbarians". Hamm traces the evolution of Jin Yong's ideological stance through these novels, from his initial position on "Han self-determination" through political/military struggle, as reflected in the earlier novels, including Heroes and Companions, to skepticism toward politics as a means to achieve this aim, as reflected in Wanderer, and finally to a pragmatic accommodation of colonization and pan-ethnic solidarity in Mount Deer. This reading is quite obvious, considering Jin Yong's personal history as a mainlander who fled to Hong Kong soon after the Communist takeover, which came on the heel of the Japanese occupation and civil war that wracked the mainland during his formative years. It is illustrative to compare the various exit strategies that his heroes used to deal with the political crisis in the mainland: Guo Jing, the epitome of Confucian patriotism, sacrificed his life in the eventually futile defense of the city of Xiangyang against the Mongol invasion; Yuan Chengzhi, escaping the imminent Manchu victory, left China for the peaceful Nanyang island of Borneo --- like so many overseas Chinese over the centuries; Linghu Chong, disgusted with the "dystopia of political life", retreated into reclusion "of individual liberty given solace and substance by romantic fulfillment on the one hand and transmitted cultural practices on the other"; Wei Xiaobao, who in contrast to any of these other protagonists, was pragmatic to a fault and probably had no single patriotic bone in his body, took himself and his seven wives to the remote province of Yunnan, fleeing from "the knot of conflicting loyalties in which he had become enmeshed" --- instead of from foreign occupation or immoral politicking like his predecessors.
His last two books, in which Jin Yong gradually subverted the paradigms of the genre that he had done so much to advance, are the most interesting. In Wanderer, the martial arts that in the earlier novels empowered their heroes to uphold justice and fight foreign invaders is represented as "not merely a tool for the ambitions of the ruthless and hypocritical, and not merely as inhumanely savage in the most significant instances of its deployment, but also structured around an intrinsic perversity that comes to symbolize the violence and unnaturalness of the quest for power." Likewise, where Heroes "envisions China's martial (wu) and cultural (wen) arts as complementary and mutually fulfilling, Wanderer suggests that for all their structural and stylistic affinities, their fundamental aims are incompatible."
The last book, Mount Deer, is even more radical: Wei Xiaobao, the protagonist of the novel is the antithesis of Jin Yong's previous heroes: not only that he didn't know any martial arts, he was also largely amoral. After spending his entire literary career writing about heroes who represent cherished traditional Chinese values, Jin Yong created a character that reflects the other side of the national characteristics. According to the author, Wei Xiaobao's two most distinct traits, namely his capacity to adapt to his environment and his loyalty to friends, are among the major reasons for the Chinese people's survival and historically unique resilience. However, "the lying and scheming to which Wei Xiaobao's 'adaptability' led him should be understood as revealing the weaknesses of the Qing society in which he lived, and would properly disappear under more enlightened social condition; indeed the prevalence of the 'Wei Xiaobao style' of cronyism, self-interest and disregard for the law has a great deal to do with the Chinese government's continued failure to get on the right track." The Han nationalism that was so prevalent in the earlier novels has been replaced by a sort of a compromise: a non-Chinese emperor like Kangxi could be a legitimate ruler, as long as he fulfills the essential requirement for enlightened rulership according to the Chinese classics, which is to display benevolence toward his subjects. Surely, living under the “benevolent” British colonial government in Hong Kong is much preferable to living under the tyranny of the Han Chinese Maoist regime on the mainland, even if the price is the "bastardization" of one's cultural identity, as reflected by Wei Xiaobao's ethnically uncertain patrimony:
"Wei Xiaobao, with no further ado, drew her aside into her chamber and asked her a question he'd been saving for a very long time, a question that had been brought again to the forefront of his mind as he had stood watching the burning boat near Siyang. The old Triad's words were still ringing in his ears, “A man can only be who he is." And who was Wei Xiaobao? "Mum, tell me, who really was my dad?" Spring Fragrance Wei looked him straight in the eye. "How the hell should I know?" Wei Xiaobao frowned. "No seriously, I mean, when I was in your belly --- who had you been doing it with?" "I was a beautiful woman in those days, my boy. I had lots of different customers everyday --- I couldn't possible worked out who it was!" "Were they all of them Chinese?" "Well, let me see now, I had Chinese, I had Manchus, Mongols ---." "No, I mean, did you ever have any foreign devils?" "What kind of shameless slut do you take me for!" came the angry retort. "Do it with one of them! With a big nose. Not on your life! Hot piece popping tamardy! If a single one of those great hairy Russians, or red-haired Dutch devils, had ever tried sneaking in here, I'd have booted them straight out the door!"
Wei Xiaobao heaved a sigh of relief. At least that possibility had been ruled out. His mother looked up. There was a twinkle in her eye. She seemed to have remembered something. "Wait a minute, though. I do recall, around that time, having a regular who was a Muslim. Very good-looking fellow he was, too. I sometimes used to say to myself, now my Xiaobao's got a fine nose, just like his." "So you had Chinese, Manchus, Mongols, Muslims --- what about Tibetans. Did you ever have a Tibetan?" asked Wei Xiaobao. A glow of pleasurable recollection lit up his mother's face. "Why, now that you mention it, yes, of course I did! There was this Tibetan Lama. Every time he came to bed he'd start chanting his sutra. And all the time he chanted he'd stare at me with this really dirty look. His eyes'd be just about popping out of his head. Saucy pair of eyes they were too --- just like yours!""*
For all its worth, the continuing popularity of Jin Yong, "the single most widely read of all twentieth century writers in the Chinese language", suggests that somehow his stories have struck a deep chord within the Chinese mind. It is surely worth reading, and translating, as literature and also a means to understand contemporary Chinese culture. It surely adds another perspective to the ones suggested by the 'big bad China' cottage industry, the foot binding fetishist fiction, and the Gao Xingjian Nobel-prize winning novels. And they're immensely more enjoyable, too.
This is my little girl Jess' own review (with some input from Mom on spelling and grammar). Jess is 9.
Hi again everyone! Jess here. This time, I'm rev...moreThis is my little girl Jess' own review (with some input from Mom on spelling and grammar). Jess is 9.
Hi again everyone! Jess here. This time, I'm reviewing a comic about my most favorite character, Sonic the Hedgehog! I've been addicted to this character for the past 2 or 3 years. And by the way, I am not the kind of girl that would like girly stuff. I am a tomboy. Ok, that's enough about me, now about the comic. The characters in this comic are Sonic, Sally, Rotor, Antoine, and Dr. Eggman. In this comic, Sonic did what he usually did, smashing robots! But this time, he found something mysterious...it was some sort of a prison capsule. When Sonic broke the capsule, 3 mysterious animals came out...Sally, Rotor, and Antoine! After some introducing, Sonic decided to join them. Next they went to the Marble Zone, where they found Eggman and defeated him quite easily.
Well, that's my review. I hope you find it good and please like! (less)
This is my little girl Jess' own review (with some input from Mom on spelling and grammar). Jess is 9.
I really like the Thea Stilton books. They are r...more This is my little girl Jess' own review (with some input from Mom on spelling and grammar). Jess is 9.
I really like the Thea Stilton books. They are really interesting and fun to read. I decided to go on to this book 'cause I couldn't find Thea Stilton And The Dragon's Code. D: So in this book the main characters are the Thea Sisters which is a team of mouselets consisting of Nicky, Colette, Violet, Paulina, and Pamela. Nicky is from Australia and she's claustrophobic (meaning that she hates tight spaces.) Colette is from France and she likes to shop a lot. Violet is from China and she's always calm and she likes to drink green tea. Paulina is from Peru and she's a real computer genius! Pamela is from Tanzania and her most favorite food in the whole world is pizza XD.
In this story, the Thea Sisters went to Australia to solve a mystery involving ill sheep at Nicky's ranch. They soon figured out that a mouse called Mortimer McCardigan was the cause of the problem. Then Nicky's grandmother, Naya, told her to take a necklace with a picture of her clan on it. Nicky took the necklace with her on her journey to find the ancient Australian aborigines. When they found the aborigines, Nicky asked the elders if they knew a cure for the sheep illness. Then she soon figured out that the medicine that she needed was right inside her necklace all along! After that they heard a horrifiying shriek. It was Mortimer McCardigan, and he fell into a canyon (but he was able to survive ....LOL... what?)
So the Thea Sisters came to help him. And finally, Nicky and the other Thea Sisters returned home, to Nicky's ranch and got a letter from Mortimer saying that he was sorry. And that was the story.
I like the story and I find it interesting because I learned things about Australia that I didn't know. (One of the facts was: "The wallaby is a marsupial of tiny dimensions. It can reach a height of 12 to 40 inches, while the red kangaroo can grow to 5.5 feet tall. Kangaroos and wallabies can be found throughout Australia. They live in the desert and in wooded and rocky places".)
Thank you for reading and I hope you like it! -Jess(less)
Updated with pictures and additional excerpts and reflections from reading the different editions of the novel.
"Suddenly, the sound of the zither turn...moreUpdated with pictures and additional excerpts and reflections from reading the different editions of the novel.
"Suddenly, the sound of the zither turned loud and forceful, with the implication of battles and fights, but the flute play remained elegant and graceful. After a while, the zither play also turned mild and gentle, and both the zither and the flute switched between high notes and low notes back and forth. All of a sudden, the sounds of both the zither and the flute changed completely, as though there were many zithers and many flutes playing together in an orchestra. Although the music had changed into something magnificent with many complex florid notes, each tone and cadence stayed clear and meaningful and the melody remained pleasing and moving. Linghu Chong could feel that his mind had been completed captured by the music, and almost couldn’t help standing up. After a while, the tone of the zither and the flute changed again. This time the flute took over the lead and the zither simply accompanied with soothing chords. Soon, the sound of the flute ascended higher and higher. Out of nowhere, feelings of grief and sadness rose and washed over Linghu Chong’s heart. He turned to look at Yilin, only to find tears rolling down her cheeks like streams. A loud ring echoed suddenly, then the zither and the flute fell silent at the exact same instant. Silence swept across in all directions; all that remained was the moon, shining high and bright in the indigo sky, casting still shadows from the endless trees on the ground."
Xiao Ao Jiang Hu or The Smiling, Proud Wanderer* is one of the last wuxia novels written by Jin Yong and is one of the few that is not explicitly set in a specific historical period, although there are internal clues that point to the Ming Dynasty. In his postscript, Jin Yong explains that this was deliberate, as he "intended to employ the characters within the novel to depict certain universal phenomena from the three thousand years of Chinese political life."
Indeed, the vicious politicking and back-stabbing intrigues among the Five Mountain Sword Schools and their enemy, the Sun Moon Holy Cult (Riyue Shenjiao) that form the meat of the novel can be easily transposed to any political stage. However, considering that the novel was written at the height of the Cultural Revolution, it is not hard to see whom Jin Yong aimed to satirize:
“This time, the Sun Moon Holy Cult had come to Huashan and had planned everything meticulously. Not only had all the masters from the cult came out, they had also gathered all the subordinates from each clan, each stronghold, each cave, and each island to force the five mountains sword schools to submit to them. If the five schools didn't want to submit, then they would immediately be annihilated. Then Ren Woxing and the Sun Moon Holy Cult would control the world. They would continue with Shaolin and Wudang schools, and none from among the orthodox path would be able to resist. The business of long live the chief and unifying the Jianghu was to be settled today on the Peak of Morning Sun at Mount Huashan.
Linghu Chong was hesitating in making a decision. But hearing Shangguan Yun praising him with 'Long live Vice-Chief, your benevolence is endless', even though it was still not as much as what Ren Woxing was accustomed to receive, if he really became the Vice-Chief then this slogan would forever follow him. He felt it was very comical and couldn't help uttering a laugh. This laughter sounded like a ridicule and when they heard it, everyone on the Peak of Morning Sun became quiet all of a sudden.
Another person said, "Sacred Chief illuminates the world making our Sun Moon Holy Cult favored by the common people, also like the rain coming down after a long drought. Everyone's happy and they're giving thanks."
The only thing missing are the Little Red Books.
Those who cross party lines are subjected to "struggle sessions" in which people are forced to denounce each other under the pain of death, such as in the scene at Liu Zhengfeng's hand-washing ceremony at the beginning of the book. Even people like him who attempted to retire from public life and thus remain neutral in the fierce factional fighting cannot escape their fate. The hero's quest turns into a search for peace and human dignity, by the means of principled retreat from the corrupt and merciless jianghu, a metaphor for the political life. The theme of disillusionment with politics and ideologies is embedded in the narrative through layers of truths that gradually reveal the true state of the world to the protagonist. His struggle is not against foreign domination, as in earlier Jin Yong novels, but in keeping himself free of "improper" attachment to the corrupting world of power politics. Ultimately, the story is a cautionary tale against totalitarian brain-washing and mindless conformity.
It is not surprising that this book (and other Jin Yong titles) was banned in China during the Mao era.
"Linghu Chong laughed loudly. “Little nun,” he said, “Do you want me to win or lose?” “Of course I want you to win,” Yilin said, “When you fight while sitting down, you are the second best in the world, you won’t lose to him.” “Good!” Linghu Chong said. “Then please go! The quicker the better, the further the merrier!”"
Expelled from his sword school for consorting with the ideologically unsound and falsely accused of stealing a precious martial art manual, Linghu Chong became a jianghu pariah. He spent a significant part of the novel either being imprisoned or gravely injured. Like Dumas’ Edmond Dantes, while detained at the Cliff of Contemplation atop Mount Hua, he met a venerable master who imparted to him the long lost, incomparable sword art of the Nine Swords of Dugu (Dugu Jiujian). His further wanderings embroiled him in the bloody warfare between the “righteous” and “unrighteous”, during which it was gradually revealed that many of the “righteous” were just as morally bankrupt as the other party --- including his master, that shining paragon of Confucian virtues, the “Gentleman Sword” Yue Buqun. Linghu Chong is a particularly likeable, sympathetic hero --- he's like a funnier Yang Guo from Shendiao Xialu without the abrasive cockiness. In contrast to his seemingly easygoing, wine-loving, raffish persona, Linghu Chong was internally torn by his growing awareness of the fact that everything that he dearly held to be true --- the moral and martial superiority of his "righteous” school, the goodness of the master who raised him, the love of his master’s daughter, and the brotherhood that he had counted upon --- were just as illusory as the ideological distinction between the righteous and unrighteous. His desperate desire to return to the filial fold of his master’s family and regain the love of his beloved xiao shimei (apprentice sister) made him a pitiful figure at times.
"The two swords met with a resounding clang and the points of both swords vibrated. Both of them immediately thrusted forward at the same time towards each other's throat. Their speed was unmatched. Looking at both swords thrusting forward at such speed, it seemed that no one would be able to go up to save them and they would both meet common ruin. The crowd called out in surprise. But the crowd heard a sudden ringing sound and saw that the points of both swords pushed against each other in mid air, generating sparks and then bent together to make an arch."
Fortunately, he was fated to meet Ren Yingying, the Holy Maiden of the Sun Moon Holy Cult, who got him through the various low points of his life and taught him the transcendent art of the qin (zither). The uber-competent, shrewd, occasionally ruthless Yingying is a familiar Jin Yong love interest archetype. Their initially tentative relationship gradually blossomed into a redemptive romance that provides a welcome contrast to the dark tale of betrayal and deceit (their banter, which mainly consists of him making innuendoes to the prim and proper Yingying, who invariably blushed with prudish embarrassment, is amusing, if a bit repetitive --- if you like wuxia heroines who blush a lot, Yingying is your girl).
"Half of the girl’s face could be seen from the reflection in the water. Her eyes were shut tight, and her long eyelashes swayed in the breeze. Even though he could not see very clearly from the reflection in the water, he could still tell that she was a gorgeous-looking girl seventeen or eighteen years of age."
Meanwhile, we are treated to the deliciously convoluted plot, highlighted by thrilling sword fights --- which could be both lyrical and brutal at the same time, murder mysteries and intrigues to obtain a perverse martial art manual that requires its practitioners to castrate themselves (Freudian subtext, anyone?).
"Dongfang Bubai pulled out a green silk handkerchief from his side and gently wiped off the sweat and dirt from Yang Lianting's forehead. Yang Lianting became slightly enraged and berated him, "A grave enemy is right in front of us, why are you still wasting time with these useless pleasantries? Beat them away first and we'll still have time for intimacy later."
Grotesque comedy abounds, provided by the cheeky, smart-mouthed Linghu Chong himself, the Six Peach Valley Immortals, who serve as the court jesters of the story, or the hilariously unreasonable Monk No Comandment (Bujie), his student Monk Cannot Have No Commandment (Buke Bujie), and No Commandment's wife, the "mute" Granny. A gag that runs through the story is the bad luck that befalls Linghu Chong whenever he meets "unlucky" nuns, culminating in him inadvertently becoming the first ever male leader of the Hengshan School --- a school of nuns (Yingying promptly relieved him of the embarrassing fact by coercing various male riffraffs under her command to enter the school). The climax is a gory Machbetian bloodbath in which the ideology of good and evil is finally revealed to be no more than a veil for the naked struggle for power.
"The fifteen masked men slowly approached forward, their thirty eyes shone through the holes on their masks like the eyes of fierce wild animals, filled with cruelty and hostility."
The Smiling, Proud Wanderer showcases Jin Yong’s masterful, mature style, with vividly realized, affecting characters, nearly perfect in its blend of page-turning wuxia action, political satire and romance. Read it because it's just a sheer good story.
* The title has been variously translated into English as Smiling, Proud Wanderer, Laughing in the Wind, State of Divinity and Blood Hot Cold Proud (whoever came up with that title deserves to be shot). It literally means “Laughing Proudly at the Jianghu (the World of Rivers and Lakes, i.e. the martial world)." In the novel, the phrase stands for "to live a carefree life amidst the mundane world of strife."
I waver between two or three stars for this book. The writing is serviceable, but often terminally pedestrian, and occasionally clumsy (“Stephen lifte...moreI waver between two or three stars for this book. The writing is serviceable, but often terminally pedestrian, and occasionally clumsy (“Stephen lifted searching eyes above the soup spoon as he sucked the liquid over his teeth”). The plotting is similarly ham-fisted, with its tepid “romances”, and unaffecting, though undoubtedly well-researched war scenes (“Stephen watched the men go on madly, stepping over the bodies of their friends, clearing one firebay at a time, jostling one another to be first to traverse. They had dead brothers and friends on their minds; they were galvanized beyond fear. They were killing with pleasure. They were not normal”). It’s as though Faulks had decided that, after dutifully wading through volumes of war correspondences and field reports, he would create certain characters representative of the era and then assign random period characteristics to them. They remain as shallow as a soldier’s hasty grave, and thus their historically accurate gory deaths are devoid of pathos. But the turning point for me was the totally extraneous subplot involving Elizabeth, Stephen’s granddaughter, and the eye-rollingly unbelievable climax of her story. In her late thirties, involved in an unpromising affair with an older married man, Elizabeth develops a sudden interest in her grandfather’s war diaries and discovers facts about her family’s past --- in a particularly slow-witted way:
“Elizabeth did some calculations on a piece of paper, Grand-mere born 1878. Mum born…she was not sure exactly how old her mother was. Between sixty-five and seventy. Me born 1940. Something did not quite add up in her calculations, though it was possibly her arithmetic that was to blame.”
Umm --- my nine-year old knows how old I am. Elizabeth was raised by her mother, Francoise, and is the managing director of her company. There is no indication whatsoever that her mother wants to keep any family history secret. The implication is that they are curiously dull, or so bovinely indifferent, that such basic facts simply never came up in their family life.
Or perhaps, her abject ignorance is a clunky plot device.
Whatever. By this point, I’m plodding through the story like a WW I soldier through waist-high muck. But wait, Elizabeth is also historically challenged:
Francoise: “I was sent to Jeanne from Germany, where I had been living, because my real mother had died. She died of flu.”
Elizabeth: “Of flu? That’s impossible.”
Francoise: “No. There was an epidemic. It killed millions of people in Europe just after the end of the war.”
Er, Elizabeth --- how did you get past high school?
Elizabeth and her married lover proceed to “create an autonomous human life from nothing”, and this is unequivocally portrayed as something gloriously life-affirming. Somehow, Stephen’s wartime heroism inspired her to conquer her impending mid-life/ biological clock crisis by procreating. Screw the wife and kids. They’re obliviously happy. Francoise is non-judgmentally supportive. Stephen’s legacy lives on. The end.
the fact that you were able to turn this florid, utter drek of a novel into something like La Traviata is a testament to your geniu...more Dear Signore Verdi,
the fact that you were able to turn this florid, utter drek of a novel into something like La Traviata is a testament to your genius. This verbose, hypocritical drivel is a fast read, but other than that, has no redeeming quality whatsoever. Your Alfredo and Violetta are a vast improvement upon the repulsive Armand and Marguerite, and your divine music is a much superior articulation of the emotions that the author attempted to convey with such cloying sentimentality. What works in a few lines of libretto could be interminable in pages after pages of purple prose.
M. Dumas fils might have been the original author of this tale, but I'd take your version over his any time.
BookFiendUSA: So, how was it? My GR friends’ reviews are all over the place on this one. How does it compare to Virgin Suicides or Middlesex?
SandyBan...moreBookFiendUSA: So, how was it? My GR friends’ reviews are all over the place on this one. How does it compare to Virgin Suicides or Middlesex?
SandyBanks1971: It’s…OK. Not badly written at all, but nothing incredible either. I can’t compare it with Eugenides’ earlier works, as I have never read anything by him before.
BookFiendUSA: Seriously? You’ve never even seen the Sofia Coppola movie?
SandyBanks1971: Nope. But I’ve read the synopses of the earlier books, and I can tell you that there are absolutely no virgins, suicides or hermaphrodites in this one. Instead, we get a manic-depressive, a wannabe Christian and an English major.
BookFiendUSA: No hermaphrodites?
SandyBanks1971: No. But there is a Marriage Plot.
SandyBanks1971: It’s a common plot in 18th and 19th century literature. Typically, there is this girl --- the heroine --- and she has to choose between different suitors, and there will be all sorts of hijinks (pride, prejudices, misunderstandings, madwomen in the attic, etc.) before the nuptial payoff. Austen, Eliot and the Brontes used it extensively in their books.
BookFiendUSA: It’s a romcom!
SandyBanks1971: Something like that. The heroine in this book, Madeline, is an English major (“English was what people who didn’t know what to major in majored in.”) who is steeped in these books and has to choose between Leonard, the brooding, brilliant manic depressive, and Mitchell, the earnest, spiritually inclined sensitive guy. I looked forward to how Eugenides is going to use this sort of plot in a modern setting and how he is going to resolve it. As one of Madeline's professor muses, “What would it matter whom Emma married if she could file for separation later?” “How would Isabel Archer’s marriage to Gilbert Osmond have been affected by the existence of a prenup? ... Where could you find the marriage plot nowadays?” I’m also curious about whether the central romantic triangle is based on any particular 19th century novel (Franzen recently did this in Freedom).
BookFiendUSA: So ---?
SandyBanks1971: Eugenides does use the marriage plot, but the ending is a sort of a deconstruction of its traditional form. After all, in an age of gender equality and easy divorces, how could the Marriage Plot still matter? Leonard is obviously the Heathcliff type, and Mitchell is maybe a mix between Linton and St. John Rivers. Madeline is --- actually I don’t quite know who she really is, especially compared to the male protagonists. Eugenides gives her a pretty extensive biography, and an intermittent ambition to go to grad school and write for literary reviews, but other than that, she seems to be merely a flimsy foil for her suitors. Early on, we are told that she loves Austen and James, but unlike Mitchell and Leonard, whose lives are transformed by the books that they read, there seems to be hardly any connection between her and those books. In a pivotal moment, she reflects on…Madeline. Yes, this Madeline, the little convent schoolgirl from Paris.
Leonard ruminates on Nietzche and Mitchell has his Thomas Merton inspired epiphanies, and Madeline thinks deeply about Madeline? Why can’t she reflect on Wuthering Heights? Or, I dunno, Middlemarch? Or Persuasion? We never learn about what Madeline really thinks of the marriage plot --- and the obvious parallels to her private life --- either (her thesis is, after all, titled: “I Thought You’d Never Ask: Some Thoughts on the Marriage Plot”). If The Marriage Plot is meant to be a modern reworking of an Austen or Bronte novel, this lack of development of her character is big minus.
BookFiendUSA: Okay, so the major female character is lame. I get it. I’d rather read a ton of Madeline books than a Henry James, though. Now, some people think that this novel is terribly pretentious, with its Ivy League setting, WASP characters and lengthy Barthes quotations. Do you agree?
SandyBanks1971: Not necessarily. I mean, he’s writing about life in an Ivy League campus --- is there going to be an egghead or two, trust-fund babies, and academic egotists on steroid? You bet. To be fair, some of the kids are wealthy WASP types, but Leonard needs financial aid, and Mitchell is Greek and strictly middle class. There’s lots of name-dropping, but in most cases, they’re followed by sufficient exposition. The quotes are necessary to understand the characters’ mindset, as they live in books as much as in the real world. And Eugenides is actually poking fun, wryly, at some of the faddish academic theories:
“Madeline had a feeling that most semiotic theorists had been unpopular as children, often bullied or overlooked, and so had directed their lingering rage onto literature. They wanted to demote the author. They wanted a book, that hard-won, transcendent thing to be a text, contingent, indeterminate, and open for suggestions. They wanted the reader to be the main thing. Because they were readers.”
BookFiendUSA: Anything else that you like?
SandyBanks1971: I like how he writes about being in your early twenties, just out of college with your whole life stretching ahead of you. Grappling with issues, intellectual or otherwise. How everything seems to be of looming importance. How stuff happens, sometimes casually, that determine how you life the rest of your life. I think he captures that well, and can be quite eloquent about it. So I guess I’ll check out the suicides and hermaphrodites. (less)
Genghis Khan and his Mongol Horde were good news for the world. Really. Not convinced? Consider the following:
1. Genghis Khan was an advocate of human...moreGenghis Khan and his Mongol Horde were good news for the world. Really. Not convinced? Consider the following:
1. Genghis Khan was an advocate of human rights, specifically freedom of religion, freedom from torture and free trade (he got two of the Four Freedoms right, which is pretty impressive by medieval standards, especially when they still, like, burned heretics and unbelievers in Europe and elsewhere). GK forbade the use of torture in trials and as punishment. He also granted religious freedom within his realm, though he demanded total loyalty from conquered subjects of all religions. His own immediate family was religiously diverse: besides those who were Shamanists or Buddhists, a significant number were Monophysite Christians --- and later also Muslim converts. As for the free trade thing, it was more of a byproduct of the commercial opportunities that developed along the Silk Road (“history’s largest free-trade zone”), once the interior of the Eurasian landmass became safe enough to travel under the Pax Mongolica. Free trade as human right is still a pretty iffy concept, anyway.
2. GK created a hitherto unprecedented egalitarian society where men and some women (more on this later) advanced through “individual merit, loyalty and achievement”, instead through birth and aristocratic privilege. This egalitarian society was also incredibly diverse, comprising of people of different religions and nations. The Mongols hired European artisans to decorate their HQ in Xanadu, Chinese engineers to man their siege engines, and Muslim astronomers to chart their horoscopes. And they might have hired an Italian guy called Marco Polo to govern the city of Hangzhou --- who knows? But there’s no independent proof of it whatsoever.
3. GK was a proto-feminist --- well, he was sort of pro-woman, in the context of his era. He made it law that women are not to be kidnapped, sold or traded. Through marital alliances, he installed his daughters as de facto rulers over conquered nations. In Mongol culture, when the men went off to war, the women ruled the roost. And since Mongol men in the time of GK went really far away to conquer distant nations and did not return for years, the wives and daughters were the real boss at home (and also at the various Mongol courts, when many of GK’s male descendants turned out to be drunken incompetents). A successful queen like Sorkhothani, the wife of GK’s youngest son, was able to rule in her dead husband’s stead and made all of her sons Great Khans. Failure, however, could doom such women into cruel and unusual punishments, such as being sewed up naked into a rug and then pummeled to death (Mongols abhorred the sight of blood, thus the rug).
4. The Mongols promoted pragmatic, non-dogmatic intellectual development in the countries that they ruled. Although himself an illiterate, GK and his family recognized the value of learning and actively encouraged the development of the sciences. Under the Mongols, learned men did not have to “worry whether their astronomy agreed with the precepts of the Bible, that their standards of writing followed the classical principles taught by the mandarins of China, or that Muslim imams disapproved of their printing and painting.” New technology, such as paper and printing, gunpowder and the compass were transmitted through the Mongol realm to the West and sparked the Renaissance a few generations later.
5. The Mongols were for low taxes. GK lowered taxes for everyone, and abolished them altogether for professionals such as doctors, teachers and priests, and educational institutions.
6. The Mongols established a regular census and created the first international postal system.
7. The Mongols invented paper money (it was soon abandoned because of hyper-inflation, but they got the right idea) and elevated the status of merchants ahead of all religions and professions, second only to government officials (this is in contrast to Confucian culture, which ranked merchants as merely a step above robbers). They also widely distributed loot acquired in combat and thus promoted healthy commercial circulation of goods.
8. The Mongols improved agriculture by encouraging farmers to adopt more efficient planting methods and tools, as well as transplanting different varieties of edible plants from country to country and developed new varieties and hybrids.
Okay. So Pax Mongolica was basically good for the world. But wait, how about all of those terrible massacres, rapine and wholesale destruction of cities? Didn’t Genghis Khan famously stated that “the greatest joy a man can know is to conquer his enemies and drive them before him. To ride their horses and take away their possessions. To see the faces of those who were dear to them bedewed with tears, and to clasp their wives and daughters in his arms?”
Actually, Muslim chroniclers attributed that quote to him and it is highly unlikely that he ever uttered it. Muslims writers of the era often exaggerated Mongol atrocities for Jihad purposes.* The Mongols were very aware of the value of propaganda as a weapon of war and actively encouraged scary stories about themselves.The Mongols decimated cities that resisted them, such as Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate, but they generally let those that surrendered remain unmolested. At the end of the fourteenth century, Tamerlane piled up pyramids of heads outside the cities that he conquered, and as he (flimsily) claimed to be a Mongol, “his practices were anachronistically assigned back to Genghis Khan.” Three centuries later, Voltaire adopted a Mongol dynasty play to fit his own personal political and social agenda by portraying GK, whom he used as a substitute for the French king, as an ignorant and cruel villain. So basically, GK got an undeservedly bad rap.
Yay for Genghis Khan!
* “…more conservative scholars place the number of dead from Genghis Khan’s invasion of central Asia at 15 million within five years. Even this more modest total, however, would require that each Mongol kill more than a hundred people; the inflated tallies for other cities required a slaughter of 350 people by every Mongol soldier. Had so many people lived in the cities of central Asia at the time, they could have easily overwhelmed the invading Mongols. Although accepted as fact and repeated through the generations, the (inflated) numbers have no basis in reality.” (less)
In the early 2000s, my brother briefly worked as an executive for a Taiwanese-owned manufacturing company in China. It was a company of truly epic pro...moreIn the early 2000s, my brother briefly worked as an executive for a Taiwanese-owned manufacturing company in China. It was a company of truly epic proportions, employing hundreds of thousands in China and abroad, and manufacturing for virtually all the big names in consumer electronics sold all over the world. If you use an IPad or any other Apple product, it would have passed through one of its gargantuan production facilities. Its ‘campus’ in Longhua, an industrial suburb of Shenzhen, was practically a city unto itself with massive dormitories, shops, a sports center and a hospital. Security was tight, discipline militaristic, living condition Spartan and working hours extremely long. Assembly-line pay was miniscule by first world standards, but slightly above average for China. Worker suicides were not unknown*. Once in a blue moon, the big boss, a Taiwanese self-made billionaire who scoffed at business school grads, would drop by to preach the virtues of “hard work” and four hours of sleep a day to stadium-full of employees. On certain auspicious days, everyone had to line up to pay their respect to the Tu Di Gong, the Chinese earth god of wealth, eliciting muffled objections from the Taiwanese Christians and mainlanders brought up as atheists by the Communist state. The Taiwanese executives and managers spoke Taiwanese Hokkien among themselves, a language not understood by most of the mainlanders, and looked down on their workers, migrants from the rural interior who formed the backbone of the company’s operations.
After a while, my brother’s functional Mandarin became good enough to talk directly to the workers. He was impressed by their capacity for hard work and innate intelligence. Considering that these people were probably the first generation ever to leave the farm and were spottily educated in rural schools, it was a revelation to see how quickly they learned how the factory worked and to make hi-tech products according to complex instructions. After working hours, he wandered around the town, an industrial Wild West full of shops selling cheap and/or bootleg goods. You could walk into a hole-in-the-wall electronics shop and buy, say, a ‘Sony’ DVD player for a fraction of the official price. Or, if you liked the design of the Sony but preferred the specs of the Phillips --- mei wenti! No problem. They could assemble one for you. The more reputable shops got their wares from the factories that made these brands, so in a sense they were ‘genuine’ knock-offs. Everyone was ambitious, inured to working conditions that were unthinkable in developed countries, and had no respect whatsoever for intellectual property. The officials expected kickbacks, and practically anything was permissible for the right price. Currency manipulation aside, these attitudes seem to be the real cause behind China’s spectacular economic rise.
This book is a fascinating, occasionally voyeuristic, study of the lives of the assembly-line workers who fueled this rise, specifically a couple of factory girls in Dongguan, another industrial town not far from Shenzhen. Chang, a second-generation Chinese American, followed each of her subjects for years, chronicling their working and private lives, collecting information about their family history and even gaining access to their diaries. Daughters, who are less valued under the Confucian system, became the primary breadwinners of the family under the new values of industrialization (sons are often required to stay in the village to care for their ancestral farms and many factories prefer young women as they are considered more diligent and easier to manage). For the first time in history, unmarried, working-class women call the shots and they are ambitious enough to make the most of this opportunity. A sweatshop job is a stepping-stone to a white-collar job in the same factory. A receptionist with a talent for public speaking can become a successful recruiter for a MLM company. Farm girls who never graduated middle school could own export-oriented SMEs. There is a darker side to all of this, and Chang is never sentimental about her girls; she doesn’t shy away from writing about the sometimes-Machiavellian ethos they employed to get ahead, or about the bogus and criminal enterprises that proliferated to take advantage of ignorant migrant workers.
Between stories of the factory girls, Chang inserted her own family’s history of migration. It is decades and continents apart, for the Changs were an educated, upper middle class family that migrated to America after the Communist victory, but it serves as an interesting contrast to the experiences of today’s rural migrants.
*Long after my brother left the company, these tragic incidents became a PR disaster for the company (and Apple). In response to this problem, the management planned to replace troublesome human workers with automatons. (less)
First, I must say that the title is a bit puzzling. I thought that “Visual History” meant something like ‘pictorial history’, but there are too few pi...moreFirst, I must say that the title is a bit puzzling. I thought that “Visual History” meant something like ‘pictorial history’, but there are too few pictures in the book to justify it. There is art and architecture galore, but other than that, there is a dearth of discussion about other aspects of culture. As for the personal, aside from a few brief anecdotes about the author's various visits to Rome, there is preciously little. Judging from the contents, perhaps the book should be titled ‘Art and Architecture in Rome, with Brief Historical Asides’ --- or something to that effect.
There is some history in the earlier chapters, which deal with the Roman Empire and its papal successor, but once Hughes gets to the Renaissance, it’s all art and artists. History only resurfaces after the great works of art have dwindled by the 19th century. Then, it’s almost exclusively political history. The dichotomy is at times disorienting --- I’d love to know more about the political and cultural context of the great artistic eras, or about how the city was governed, and how ordinary citizens lived. Instead, we get some tangential history that is interesting in itself, but is not that relevant to Rome, such as the history of the Albigensian Crusade (obviously, it has something to do with the papacy, but it took place entirely in Provence).
The art history/criticism that is the meat of this book is brisk, bristling with interesting details and occasionally memorably phrased: the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling is “almost all body, or bodies. The only sign of a nature that is not flesh is an occasional patch of bare earth and, in the Garden of Eden, a tree”; Caravaggio “thrashed about in the etiquette of early Seicento Rome like a shark in a net.” It is fascinating to learn about the history of all of those obelisks that dot the Roman landscape and the engineering feats that were accomplished to move and erect them. Or about the creative recycling/vandalism that went on through Rome’s history until relatively recent times (the Colosseum, for example, was used as a convenient quarry for the new Vatican, and the ancient bronze cladding of the Pantheon was stripped to make Bernini’s massive baldachino in St. Peter’s). Hughes goes beyond the familiar superstars like Michelangelo and Raphael, covering lesser-known artists like Guido Reni (“There can be few painters in history whose careers show such a spectacular rise to the heights of reputation, followed by such a plunge to the depths.”) and Annibale Caracci, who painted the staterooms of Palazzo Farnese. This was done during a particularly dissolute era in the history of the Church, when it was perfectly okay for a cardinal, later Pope Paul III, to have his private residence decorated with pagan soft porn scenes with a bestial twist like this one (it’s classical! --- it’s from Ovid’s Metamorphoses!):
The Rape of Ganymede by Jupiter's Eagle with Satyrs Ouch!
Hughes points out that “to call such a theme inappropriate for a future pontiff would be a mistake: he had been made a cardinal by the Borgia Pope Alexander VI, whose mistress was Alessandro Farnese’s sister, Giulia Farnese. Moreover, he had four illegitimate children of his own, plus an unknown number of by blows.” As a Jesuit-educated ex-Catholic, Hughes pulls no punches against his former faith, in most cases with some justification --- scathingly denouncing the corrupt Renaissance papacy, the reactionary Church of the 19th century, the appeasement of Nazis and Fascists in the 20th, and the $ 500 “hefty ransom” that the Vatican demanded for a private tour of the Sistine Chapel today. But he’s at his crankiest (and funniest) best when charting the decline of 21st century Rome, where statesmanship has gone down from this
Augustus of Prima Porta
“…a multi-multi-millionaire…who seems to have no cultural interest…apart from top-editing the harem of blondies for his quiz shows.”
and art has degenerated from this
“Opening the can would, of course, destroy the value of the artwork. You cannot know that the shit is really inside, or that whatever may be inside is really shit…so far none has been opened; it seems unlikely that any will be, since the last can of Manzoni’s Merda d’artista to go on the market fetched the imposing sum of $80,000.”