Jesse's Reviews > Historian of the Strange: Pu Songling and the Chinese Classical Tale

Historian of the Strange by Judith T. Zeitlin
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really liked it
Read 2 times. Last read March 15, 2018 to April 6, 2018.

I am giving this four stars because I find the material fascinating, and I find it to be a well-rounded treatment of the stories, their themes, and their cultural context. I would give it a 5-star rating if it didn't require the interest of the reader in its subject matter from the outset... if it could sell Pu Songling's strange tales as a fascinating-enough topic that a general non-fiction audience might want to hook into it.

I understand, of course, that this isn't entirely the intention. This is an academic text, a close reading, and not a mass market docu-drama or anything like that. It's well-written and it fully inhabits the text, and it was an excellent accompaniment to the Tales themselves, which I read in parallel in whatever public domain forms I could find them.

What makes Historian of the Strange so strong is its engagement with the Chinese cultural world that gave rise to these stories. The obsession with obsession, the gender fluidity and anxiety, the romance of the supernatural, and the culture of scholarship and endless annotation... these details brought so much texture to my understanding of the stories, I'm not sure how much I would have appreciated them without it.

The things I could have used a little more of: more discussion of the treatment of these stories in the West. I've had trouble finding the best translations and collections, and a few additional sections or appendixes would have been welcome: one covering the translation issues, and another providing a well-informed source review of the most interesting, most essential, and most infamous stories... I realize this was out of the author's scope, but I do think they might have improved the larger package.

Overall, though, I'm glad I got to read this excellent study, and I had a great time immersing myself in this microcosmic literary world. I hope to keep coming back to Songling's work, and when I do, I'll keep going back to Zeitlin's study, as well.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
March 15, 2018 – Started Reading
April 6, 2018 – Shelved
April 6, 2018 – Finished Reading

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