Ethan Cramer-Flood's Reviews > Fortress Besieged

Fortress Besieged by Qian Zhongshu
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Apr 21, 2012

it was ok

Fortress Besieged is regarded as one of the great Chinese novels of the twentieth century. Published in the 1940s, and set in 1937-38 during the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war that preceded World War II, it's supposed to be a triumph of social satire, word play, and uniquely Chinese cynicism about relationships, families, and human behavior in general.

If all this is true, then the translation in this version has not done Qian Zhongshu justice. Either that, or the social elements that he's sending up are so alien to a modern, western reader that getting the joke is a mostly hopeless endeavor. Put another way: at no point during my reading of Fortress Besieged was I able to discern what the big deal is about this book.

I suspect the translation is not up to the task of communicating Qian's mastery of Chinese puns, twisted word play, diction-based comedy, and subtle absurdism. He peppers his writing with ancient proverbs that can't be translated literally without losing all meaning, but the translators (Jeanne Kelly and Nathan Mao) make little effort to find English equivalents, and instead leave us with gobbledegook. Sentences that are most likely dripping with irony come across as confusing or incoherent.

Fortress Besieged needs an update. I'd be willing to try it again some day if a superior translation ever emerges.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
April 21, 2012 – Shelved

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by NULLAND (new)

NULLAND not translation for task and justice. this book is worst in chinese literature. it's right criticism that getting the joke is a mostly hopeless endeavor.


message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

I suspect it isn't the translation - more a case of academic confusion about the nature of fiction


message 3: by Moon (new)

Moon Silver This book talks about the behaviours of people and societies using a language that seeks depth into all of its details. If you are trying to find an interesting plot to read then it's not for you. It's one of those books that taking the time to savour the language and meaning is equally as important as the storyline.


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