I did read the original version for obvious reasons - at first it did grab me, but then the spell broke, and though I did enjoy it, it went progressivI did read the original version for obvious reasons - at first it did grab me, but then the spell broke, and though I did enjoy it, it went progressively downhill for me. The problem is I fell out of step with the style, and started focussing progressively more on the plot, which is where I think Silk wears thin(!). Sure, one should not get too hung up on the plot if the writing carries it, but the problem is that after a while it did not do it for me anymore. The ending is particularly disquieting (view spoiler)[ - even assuming that Helen had found the first note, had it translated and figured out it was a woman, why get her own man to obsess about this by writing the second letter? (hide spoiler)] I know I shouldn't be wondering about this, at least I do not think this is what the author wants - it is just that the writing did not work for me.["br"]>...more
I know, “mesmerising” is abused in far too many movie trailers, but it is the word best describes the effect this book had on me. When I say the book,I know, “mesmerising” is abused in far too many movie trailers, but it is the word best describes the effect this book had on me. When I say the book, I rather meant its main part - there are two of them, with two different narrators, and it is Jakob Beer’s that had me hooked. The final part felt somewhat contrived, less fluent and natural, both in “plot” (if we can talk of plot) and in the prose itself. But the first part alone is magnificent, wonderful read....more
It did take me a few chapters to get into the swing of it, but I eventually got into the rhythm of it, and quite enjoyed it in the end. I found it invIt did take me a few chapters to get into the swing of it, but I eventually got into the rhythm of it, and quite enjoyed it in the end. I found it invaluable as a witness of the time, place and culture, and knowing the fate of its author made reading it all the more poignant. As a literary text, however, it was less enthusing. Of course, it was a subversive text, aiming at prodding the people to look at themselves and their society, so some black and white was in order. Still, the almost saintly purity of various of the characters (not just the two main protagonists, but several others, like Tasio, Elias, and so on) was at times irritating - those who have read Cuore will know what kind of cloying, edifying sentimentalism I'm talking about.
Pleasant read, though I could not really "sink" into the novel, as jarring notes kept jumping at me - the main protagonist, Alexandra, raised on a farPleasant read, though I could not really "sink" into the novel, as jarring notes kept jumping at me - the main protagonist, Alexandra, raised on a farm in the middle of nowhere, not much of a reader, living among simple, uncultured people, is exceedingly perceptive and thoughtful in her perception of human feelings. But she is not alone, as I think maybe with the single exception of Oscar, there is no character that at least once is preoccupied with the feelings of others. Of course I am not arguing that they would not feel the most complex of inner turmoils: it is their reasoning about it that strikes the wrong chord.
Also, these characters are all good to the core, even the one (won't spoil it for you) that commits the unspeakable: each and every one of them is deep down thoroughly good and wholesome - somewhat annoying, whereas the writing is very enjoyable. The opening sentence is memorable:
One January day, thirty years ago, the little town of Hanover, anchored on a windy Nebraska tableland, was trying not to be blown away.
One passage that struck me (out of many!) was this most delicate kiss in the suddenly darkened hall, the contrast between the tender tension in the tent and the more childish excitement outside: (view spoiler)[
At that instant Amedee laid hands on the switchboard. There was a shiver and a giggle, and every one looked toward the red blur that Marie's candle made in the dark. Immediately that, too, was gone. Little shrieks and currents of soft laughter ran up and down the dark hall. Marie started up,—directly into Emil's arms. In the same instant she felt his lips. The veil that had hung uncertainly between them for so long was dissolved. Before she knew what she was doing, she had committed herself to that kiss that was at once a boy's and a man's, as timid as it was tender; so like Emil and so unlike any one else in the world.
Not until it was over did she realize what it meant. And Emil, who had so often imagined the shock of this first kiss, was surprised at its gentleness and naturalness. It was like a sigh which they had breathed together; almost sorrowful, as if each were afraid of wakening something in the other.
(hide spoiler)] and that is representative of what spoiled it for me.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
This book has a remarkable flow - it took me a while to read it for the simple reason that these days I have very little time.
The other side of the "This book has a remarkable flow - it took me a while to read it for the simple reason that these days I have very little time.
The other side of the "readability coin" is that this book lacks proper probing of the issues: Chang seems too much in love with her project (offering a portrait of Cixi which is very different from conventional wisdom - at least as far as China's assessment of her goes) to remember to educate her readers on so many other aspects of that long reign that just a modest amount of curiosity makes any reader wonder about. In this sense, then, it is a lost opportunity: we get a lot of the facts, and this is remarkable given that the official Chinese position on Cixi is very different - but a lot is left unexplained. We know that there are the Manchu minority and the Han minority, but beside different dress codes, what else is there to distinguish these two cultures? How did this environment affect Cixi? How did the Manchu manage to achieve and retain power? What was the general situation of China at the time? On these themes it seems that Pearl Buck is more instructive than Jung Chan, which is a pity. Sure, this is not intended to be scholarly work, which is fine of course, but I felt shortchanged nonetheless.
All the narration points towards showing how great a ruler Cixi was - with some flaws, for which however plenty of justifications. Yet there are some sudden changes, both of Cixi's attitude and in the attitudes towards her, that are left unexplained and which are difficult to make sense of: for instance, after the Boxer troubles, first she flees Bejing to escape not just the invaders but the resentful population, then all of a sudden it seems that her people love her again: what happened to bring this change about?
Jung glosses over what are very obviously serious shortcomings in Cixi's personality: in places the facts we are presented with show a woman of many contradictions, and great passions (from allowing almost any licence to her son, to some chilling displays of callousness, e.g. Pearl's murder). But in other places she mellows down (e.g. after returning to Bejing: why?).
It is a real pity that there is no real exploration of Cixi's character - this is a good book, but it could have been much better.