Madeline's Reviews > The Chinese Nail Murders

The Chinese Nail Murders by Robert van Gulik
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Jun 08, 2010

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bookshelves: detective-fiction

One of my friends, seeing that I'm in the middle of a mystery novel spree, lent me this book that she'd read for a Chinese history class last year. It's interesting for a lot of reasons, which I will list here:

-The stories are based on real Chinese police cases, but the translator van Gulik (a Dutch diplomat) decided that they were too boring and gave them the CSI treatment to spice them up. This means comically inept deputies, three illustrations featuring topless women being abused in some way, and Judge Dee has forbidden feelings of (gasp!) respect for another woman.
-There are four different mysteries within the story, but instead of presenting them one at a time, all four are brought to the judge's attention almost all at once, and they all have to be investigated simultaneously. This sometimes made it hard to remember who was suspected of what, but luckily there's a character list at the beginning of the book.
-Everybody drinks tea a lot, and every single time someone poured tea I couldn't help remembering that scene from Mulan where the matchmaker tells her to POUR THE TEA and then all hell breaks loose. Thanks, Disney.
-Since van Gulik didn't appear to give a rat's ass about the actual Chinese language, there are several distinctly European words that are very out of place, even in a translation - multiple times he uses the words "duenna", "wenches", and, I kid you not, "Generalissimo." I mean, come on.

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Comments (showing 1-5)

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message 5: by David (new)

David I might be making this up, but I think Chang Kai-Shek is sometimes called "Generalissimo" in English, so there may be a precedent for this one....

Madeline Possibly, my Chinese history knowledge runs more towards "nonexistent" than "good." But I remain firm on the use of "wenches" and "duenna." Do not compute.

message 3: by Michael (new)

Michael Heh heh. I've been around Chinese speakers for 15 years. He had to spice it up, because the Chinese language is SO simple. Hard as hell to pronounce, but a simple language as far as verbs, nouns, etc. For example, he, she, it is the same when spoken. Computer is translated "electronic brain". Verb conjugation is minimal. Generalissimo is a term to describe a General who is also the leader of a nation type. Like Castro, etc. I think the word is actually Italian. Not sure about that, but Chang Kai-Shek IS his real name.

message 2: by Michael (new)

Michael And the reason everyone drinks tea is because that is where the English got tea from and lots of other incredible items. The former China. :-/

Linda Chrisman A librarian recommended these to me years ago. Stories were very interesting and sometime and I must say I enjoyed them very much as mystery stories. However, I do not have a background in Oriental studies so was not bothered by word usage.

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