Friday, August 29, 2014

Cephalopod Coffeehouse August 2014

Via Armchair Squid.

I thinking I'm going Japanese!  I think I'm going Japanese!

No, wait, Chinese.  I'm going Chinese!  Is there a song for that?  Anyway, so obviously I've been reading Chinese literature all month.  The book I've actually finished reading is Nobel Prize-winning author Mo Yan's brilliant Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out, which tracks the dramatic developments of 1950-2000 from the perspective of a man who is reincarnated into a donkey, an ox, a pig (the longest section), a dog, very briefly a monkey, and then a large-headed child.  Those are two big subjects to tackle, the big giant cultural reforms China tackled and reincarnation.  Besides Ximen Nao, one-time landlord of Ximen Village, we follow the lives of those he leaves behind and their descendants, their own changing fortunes (though remaining, er, human as they do).  Sometimes it's a little like Animal Farm if it was less allegory and more an imaginative tour of history.  For a reader like me, very fascinating stuff.

What it does most interestingly, for me, is explore China.  I don't know about you, but my practical understanding of China stops short after grasping the bold strokes.  It's the major country that has been allowed to remain in its own bubble, mostly out of its own choosing, which remains true to this day, always warily taking small steps to joining the greater global community (at the moment, embracing the Hollywood blockbuster!).  I think the massive political (which we think of almost exclusively in its greater Communist context) shift that characterizes the period featured in Life and Death was really all about China realizing for the first time that it was being left behind by the rest of the world, and taking drastic measures to catch up again.  Terrible thing to experience personally, but a real test of character, and that, after all, is the mark of the best storytelling.  Thankfully someone like Mo Yan comes along to capture the experience perfectly.

I randomly received from my periodic Goodreads Giveaways casting net Old Land, New Tales around the same time I was reading Life and Death.  It's a collection of Chinese short stories.  I figured I might as well start reading that next, and so that's exactly what I'm doing.  As with any collection, some of the stories are more interesting than others, but more to the point, I think it's giving me another look at China, a little deeper, and that's pretty interesting on the whole.
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