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"Western tales, together with detective stories, were something of an addiction. [Yeats' daughter] remembered how once in a delirious fever he shouted out, "Send for the Sheriff!""
from Yeats by Frank Tuohy
Written about William Butler Yeats, in "Yeats"
Sunday, May 15, 2016
Found in translation
Title: Love in a fallen city
By: Ailing Zhang
In 2007, New York Review Books published Love in a Fallen City, a collection of seven novellas by famed Chinese writer Zhang Ailing. Originally published in 1943, it tells the story of a rapidly declining aristocratic family in Shanghai at the end of the 1930s. Not unlike Mrs. Bennet, the mother in Pride and Prejudice, the old matriarch is anxious to marry off her three grown-up daughters, especially Bai Liusu, the sixth daughter, whose ex-husband has just died, to eligible rich bachelors. Instead of succumbing to fate as a widow to claim a share of the inheritance or a future of shaving her hair to become a nun, the 28-year-old Liusu is determined to live her own life: "First marriage for the family, second marriage for oneself." Her half-sister, the seventh daughter, admires Liusu’s fiery and free spirit and chooses her as her companion for her first formal meeting with Fan Liuyuan, a wealthy Chinese heir from London. In a twist of fate, the sophisticated Liuyuan shows more interest in Liusu than in the intended betrothed. He engineers an invitation to Hong Kong for her. They fall in love after resolving a series of misunderstandings, and survive untold hardships during the 1941-1945 Japanese occupation.
The title story, which made Zhang Ailing the most popular new writer in Shanghai in the 1940s, displayed what became her literary trademarks: settings (Shanghai and Hong Kong), time periods (prior to and after World War II), characters (European or American educated intellectuals from declining aristocratic families), and themes (tension and uncertainty between love/freedom and societal restraints). She drew substantially from her real life experience, as reflected in her autobiographical novel Xiao tuan yuan (SCPL has a copy in Chinese).
Despite her early success and later recognition as one of China's four female literary giants (along with Lü Bicheng, Xiao Hong, and Shi Pingmei), Ailing remains relatively unknown to today’s readers. Her first marriage, to a Japanese collaborator in the Sino-Japanese War, resulted in the banning of her books in Mainland China until recently. And, while a handful of her books have been translated into English, many subtleties have been lost in the process. However, Ailing's literary works transcend time and space with their penetrating language to portray "the desires, imaginations, and personalities of urban residents," (Encyclopedia Britannica). Meanwhile, their conflict between traditional Chinese culture and Western modernity is one of the constant themes favored by film/TV directors. Many of them have been adapted into movies, mostly notably, Love in a Fallen City (1984), Red Rose, White Rose (1994), and Half a Lifelong Romance (1997 as a film; 2003 as a TV series).
Saturday, April 30, 2016
Not your average superhero
By: Perry Moore
Thom Creed is a pretty average kid except for a few minor details: his dad is an Ex-Superhero, and Thom is Gay. In this action-packed and heart-wrenching novel, Thom struggles to keep his father in the dark about his sexual orientation and the fact that he has joined the League of Superheros, something his father has forbidden. But Thom wishes to do good as he figures out how to use his new abilities along with his League teammates Scarlett, who can control fire; Typhoid Larry, who can get people sick with just a single touch; and Ruth, a sassy, wise older woman who can see the future. This coming-of-age story is geared towards an older teen age range; due to its more mature topics and language, I wouldn't recommend it for anyone younger than 15.
The audiobook narrator, Michael Urie, did a great job. It was also wonderful to listen to Stan Lee read the introduction he wrote for this novel. If you like slice of life superhero stories and are looking for a LGTBQ Teen novel, this is a perfect read/listen for you!
Monday, April 11, 2016
Clone with a soul?
Title: The House of the Scorpion
By: Nancy Farmer
Over a hundred years in the future, Matt Alacran lives in the Land of Opium, where he is the clone of the Lord of Opium, El Patron. The 100+ year-old ruler was once a powerful crime/drug lord who took much of the southern United States and northern Mexico and formed the Drug Countries, where each grows a different Drug and sells it internationally. But Matt isn't too worried about all that; he’s more focused on surviving the tense internal politics of one of the richest and powerful families in the country, possibly the world.
Through Matt's treatment in this bizarre world, Farmer brings up lots of questions about what it means to be a person. In Opium Matt is nothing but a clone, and thus property, and so he is treated like the intelligent family dog. The Catholic religious practices of several of the characters touch Matt's thoughts and make him wonder if he even has a soul, since animals apparently don't. This novel isheavy in concepts, but whimsical in its descriptions of the poppy fields and land of Opium.
Also, the opposing themes in this book—for example, the mixture of old fashioned traditions and futuristic technology—make it dynamic and provocative. I very much look forward to reading (or listening to) the next book in this series, The Lord Of Opium.
Thursday, March 31, 2016
Will to survive
Title: Salt to the Sea
By: Ruta Sepetys
Near the end of World War II in Europe, many people have begun fleeing their homes to escape the Nazis. The Russians are destroying whole towns, and people are escaping with what they can carry. Joana, Emilia, Florian and Alfred have all left home for different reasons. Joana is a Lithuanian nurse in search of the family she became separated from during the war. Emilia is a Polish girl fleeing something horrible from her past. Florian is a Prussian soldier with something to hide. And Alfred is a German soldier who feels that what the Nazis are doing is right. The sea is the only way for them to get away from what they are hiding and find freedom. Their paths cross when they all gain passage on the ship Wilhelm Gustloff, which is crowded with war refugees who are supposed to be going to a safe place in German territory. Joana, Emilia, Florian and Alfred have come this far in their journey, but will they survive the last leg?
Based on the actual sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, the worst maritime tragedy in history, Salt to the Sea tells the story of survival against all odds. In the face of the tremendous heartbreak of war, Joana, Emilia, Florian and Alfred still have the will to survive.
Monday, March 28, 2016
Treacherous net, treacherous human hearts
Title: The Treacherous Net
By: Helene Tursten
Many of our readers are familiar with Swedish author Helene Tursten. Her character, Detective Inspector Irene Huss, appears in a number of books, audiobooks, & DVDs in our library catalog. The Treacherous Net, her latest translated mystery, is a complex work, with an ambitious theme dealing with loneliness, the most widespread disease in Sweden, and modern society as a whole.
There are three concurrent storylines: a time-sensitive case to save teenage girls from an online predator; a mummified body discovered during a house demolition that triggers the reopening of a cold case from 42 years ago; and an intense workplace conflict between Huss and her new boss, Efva Thylqvist.
Loneliness, an internal poverty, is reflected fully in the book. Young teenage girls from both rich and poor family backgrounds turn to the treacherous Web for love and romance. But face-to-face interaction can be treacherous, too. Ever since her former boss was replaced by Thylqvist, Irene has experienced the taste of loneliness at work. She has been passed over and her input ignored. Worse, she has become isolated from her best friend/colleague, who was moved away from their shared office, and from the rest of her fellow officers, who have been won over by their attractive, seemingly hardworking new boss.
Faced with these challenges, Huss does not give in and quit her job, for she loves what she does. As the case progresses, Huss finds her true allies within and outside her department. And she surprises herself by finding the strength to speak out and give credit to the deserving when the new superintendent intends to grab all the glory herself.
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