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Archive for November, 2020

I discovered Arno Schmidt’sBottom’s Dream‘ a few years back when the English translation came out. Someone in Twitter, probably the publishers, wrote about it. It looked like a chunkster and it was translated by one of my favourite translators John E. Woods – I loved his translations of Patrick Süskind’sPerfume‘ and ‘The Pigeon‘ – and so I decided to get it.

When the postal courier arrived, I was surprised, because he carried the package on his shoulder! It was huge! When I took it from him, I nearly dropped it! It was that heavy! I discovered later that it weighed around six kilos (if you are into pounds, it is a little more than thirteen pounds). It was bigger than any other book I had in my collection – ‘War and Peace‘ and ‘Les Miserables‘ paled in comparison. It was so huge and massive that its immensity was intimidating. It was also the heaviest. It was next to impossible to hold it in your hand and read. It has to be kept on a table or a special book holder if one wanted to read it. It was also the most expensive single-volume novel that I had got till that time – it cost me the equivalent of fifty dollars. (It trades on Amazon at 855 dollars now, so not a bad investment 😁)

More facts emerged later. I discovered that only 2000 copies of the book were published, 1000 for the American market and 1000 for the rest of the world. I was able to get hold of one of the rest-of-the-world copies. There is no Kindle edition – the estate of Arno Schmidt refused to approve that. It was published by Dalkey Archive, who have been publishing beautiful works by lesser known authors for the past forty years. The publishers and the writer’s estate seem to have adopted a publishing philosophy from an earlier century – publish limited copies of the book, and that’s it. The book is out-of-print now and I hope existing copies cost a fortune when I get old – I hope to get rich with this.

The book is produced in a classic German (or rather European) style. That is there is no introduction, no analysis of the book or its place in literary history. The book proper starts on the first page. There are no distractions. No potted biography of the author, no description of the translator, nothing. It is you and the book, 1500 pages of it, and nothing in between. The translator seems to have taken pity on the readers and so has sneaked in a one-and-half page afterword in the end, which doesn’t say much. There is a short description on the back of the slipcase through which we discover that the book is about Edgar Allan Poe, Shakespeare, the art of translating. Otherwise we can’t fathom anything about the book.

I know only three other people who have got the book – Melissa from ‘The Book Binder’s Daughter’, Tony from ‘Messenger’s Booker (and more)’ and one more friend from Twitter. Only Tony has read a significant part of the book, I think. You can find his first post on the book here. Tony’s posts are encyclopaedic and an education to read. I don’t think there is anyone who has read the book fully. I see many readers have reviewed the book on Amazon. But I doubt whether any of these readers have read the book fully. Anyone can write a review of any book. I am very good at it – I can write a review of any book I haven’t read. If I can do it, anyone can do it. I will believe it only when I see it.

I thought for this year’s edition of ‘German Literature Month‘, I’ll read a few pages of ‘Bottom’s Dream‘. I thought that would be a great way of celebrating this 10th edition of GLM. I read the first three pages. I couldn’t understand anything. Only a vague inkling of what it was about. But it was nice to read the first three pages. I am sharing them here. Go ahead, do read them. And tell me whether you can understand what they say.

This is my last post for the 10th year celebrations of ‘German Literature Month‘ hosted by Caroline from ‘Beauty is a Sleeping Cat’ and Lizzy from ‘Lizzy’s Literary Life’. I couldn’t read much this year, but I had fun participating and sharing thoughts on my favourite German writers and poems and attempting to read Arno Schmidt’s magnum opus. Thanks so much to Caroline and Lizzy for hosting GLM. It is my favourite reading event of the year and I can’t wait for next year’s GLM already.

Have you tried reading Arno Schmidt’s book? What do you think about it? Did you participate in German Literature Month this year? Which were your favourite reads?

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I wrote this as part of the celebrations for the tenth edition of German Literature Month hosted by Caroline from ‘Beauty is a Sleeping Cat’ and Lizzy from ‘Lizzy’s Literary Life’.

Marlen Haushofer is my favourite German author. She was Austrian and wrote in German. I first discovered her through Caroline’s (from ‘Beauty is a Sleeping Cat’) post about the film adaptation of ‘The Wall’. I got inspired and got the book, and when I read it, I didn’t want it to end. When I finished reading the book, it became my alltime favourite book, at that time. It is still one of my alltime favourite books. It is one of my treasured possessions and a book I refuse to lend to anyone. If you are curious about the plot, it goes like this. A forty-something old woman goes on a holiday with her cousin to the countryside. She goes to take a nap in their cabin. She wakes up to an eerie silence. She discovers that she has been separated by a transparent wall from the rest of the world and everyone on the other side is dead. She has a dog, a cat and a cow for company. This is revealed in the first few pages. What happens to this one human character and three animal characters is revealed in the next 250 pages. We would think that with just one human character, the story would have nowhere to go, but what Haushofer does with this minimalist cast is absolutely magical. I’ll let you read for yourself and find out what happened. After I read ‘The Wall‘, I wanted to read all of Haushofer’s books. But there were just two more of her books available in English translation – ‘The Loft‘ and ‘Nowhere Ending Sky‘. I got them and read them across the years. One would except that after reading a profound book like ‘The Wall‘ one would almost experience a sophomore slump while reading the next Haushofer book, but when I read ‘The Loft‘, I found it beautiful in its own way and it had one of my favourite lines, which goes like this –

“I hate that alarm…I am convinced this wretched thing is slowly killing us – a fraction every day. Merely waiting for it to start ringing is in itself a torment…Before the day can slip noiselessly into the room it is shattered to pieces by this vulgar rattling noise.”

I kept ‘Nowhere Ending Sky‘ aside for a long time, because I didn’t want to read my last Haushofer book in a hurry. Sometime back I felt that I had waited for too long and I read that too. It is a beautiful coming-of-age story and one of my favourite coming-of-age stories. If I hadn’t read ‘The Wall‘ before, ‘Nowhere Ending Sky‘ would have been my favourite Haushofer book. It still is one of my alltime favourite books.

I don’t know much about Marlen Haushofer. Information about her is hard to come by on the internet. The Wikipedia page in English devoted to her has just the basic facts about her. She must have been well-known in her time in the German-speaking world or in Austria atleast, but after her death in 1970, she seems to have slipped into obscurity. She came again into prominence and burned brightly like star, briefly, a few years back when ‘The Wall‘ was adapted into a film which won lots of acclaim. Since then she has slipped back into obscurity again. I know only a few people who have read ‘The Wall‘ and half of them are friends to whom I recommended it to. ‘The Wall‘ is one of the great masterpieces of twentieth century literature. It deserves more readers.

Though we don’t know much about Marlen Haushofer, she reveals herself through her books. Atleast, I think so. If we try peeking behind the beautiful sentences, we find someone who is warm and affectionate, introverted, and who loves animals. How can someone who wrote this –

“The laurel is flowering. I don’t pick any because I’m afraid the plant might cry out in pain and I wouldn’t hear it. True, I don’t remember ever hearing laurel cry out, but everything is possible, and every sound is possible to a person who cannot hear.” (From ‘The Loft‘)

or this –

“That summer I quite forgot that Lynx was a dog and I was a human being. I knew it, but it had lost any distinctive meaning. Lynx too had changed. Since I’d been spending so much time with him he had grown calmer, and didn’t seem constantly afraid that I might vanish into thin air as soon as he went off for five minutes. Thinking about it today, I believe that was the only big fear in his dog’s life, being abandoned on his own. I too had learned a lot more, and understood almost all his movements and noises. Now, at last, there was a silent understanding between us.” (From ‘The Wall‘)

be anything but warm and affectionate, and a beautiful soul?

I am glad that Marlen Haushofer walked on earth once upon a time. I am glad that she was a beautiful soul. I am so happy that she wrote these beautiful, exquisite masterpieces. I wish our times had overlapped. I would have loved to meet her. But I am glad that she lives through her books. As they say about Beethoven and Mozart, that they didn’t die, but they became music, Marlen Haushofer didn’t die, she became her stories.

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German Literature Month hosted by Caroline from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life every November is one of my favourite reading events of the year. This year we are celebrating the 10th edition. I was looking forward to reading lots of German literature this month. But things didn’t go according to plan. I tried reading slowly, then I tried forcing myself to read, but it didn’t work. Three weeks of the month have already gone, and I’ve read a few pages from multiple books. This is not how I expected the 10th anniversary celebrations to go. I am disappointed with myself. But I’m not giving up. I have participated in every edition of German Literature Month and I am not going to miss it this time. I decided to participate in a different way this year.

I thought as my first post this year, I’ll write about my favourite German poems. I haven’t read a lot of German poems, and I don’t know many readers who have read German poems. But I’ve read some, and I’ve loved them. I’m sharing some of my favourites below.

Hermann Hesse

One of my friends gifted me this poetry collection by Hermann Hesse. I love Hesse’s novels and he is one of my favourite writers, but I didn’t know that he wrote poetry. I was pleasantly surprised when I read this book and I loved it.

These lines from one of the poems, make me remember my mother, and always make me cry.

“But the mild night,
That bows with its gentle clouds above me,
Has my mother’s face,
Kisses me, smiling, with inexhaustible love,
Shakes her head dreamily
As she used to do, and her hair
Waves through the world, and within it
The thousand stars, shuddering, turn pale.”

These lines are very poignant.

“And one day you will know
That the sweet breath of this life,
The precious possession of the heartbeat,
Is only a loan”

These lines are thought-provoking.

“And that for every hair on your head
Somebody endured one struggle, one pain, one death.”

And these lines are beautiful and insightful.

“But sleep has turned into a frightened bird,
Difficult to catch, to hold, yet easy to kill;”

Clearly, Hesse is as wonderful a poet, as he is a novelist.

Nelly Sachs

Nelly Sachs is nearly forgotten today. No one knows her. No one remembers her. Except for a few fans like me. This was how she lived most of her life. No one knew her. She was an obscure German poet, who lived in Sweden. Then for a brief period she shone brightly like a star, when she won the Nobel Prize for literature, and then she was promptly forgotten again. I discovered her by accident, and when I saw her photo it was love at first sight – it was like looking at a photo of my mother or my favourite aunt or my favourite teacher. I didn’t care how good her poetry was, I just loved her. Then I read about her and the difficult times she went through and I loved her even more. Then I read her poetry and it was so moving and heartbreaking that I cried.

Many of her poems are about the Holocaust, some of them are about the butterfly and metamorphosis and many of them have an underlying Jewish theme. I’m sharing one of my favourite poems of hers, here. It is beautiful and heartbreaking.

If I Only Knew

If I only knew
On what your last look rested.
Was it a stone that had drunk
So many last looks that they fell
Blindly upon its blindness?

Or was it earth,
Enough to fill a shoe,
And black already,
With so much parting
And with so much killing?

Or was it your last road
That brought you a farewell from all the roads
You had walked?

A puddle, a bit of shining metal,
Perhaps the buckle of your enemy’s belt,
Or some other small augury
Of heaven?

Or did this earth,
Which lets no one depart unloved,
Send you a bird-sign through the air,
Reminding your soul that it quivered
In the torment of its burnt body?

Georg Trakl

I discovered Georg Trakl’s poetry through Melissa’s (from ‘The Book Binder’s Daughter’) post on it. Then I got his collection ‘Sebastian Dreaming‘ and have been dipping into it ever since.

Trakl was an Austrian poet. He died very young, when he was 27, at the beginning of the First World War, and left behind a slim collection of poetry, most of which has been translated into English only recently. One of my favourite poems from this collection is this one. It paints a beautiful picture of autumn.

Landscape

September evening; the dark calls of the shepherds echo mournfully
Through the darkening village; fire sprays inside the forge.
A black horse rears enormous; the hyacinthine curls of the country girl
Play for the ardour of his crimson nostrils.
The call of the doe quietly freezes at the edge of the forest
And the yellow flowers of autumn
Bend speechless over the blue face of the pond.
A tree bursts into red flames; the bats flutter upward with black faces.

Ingeborg Bachmann

I discovered Ingeborg Bachmann through Caroline from ‘Beauty is a Sleeping Cat’. (This is Ingeborg Bachmann week. Do check out Caroline’s beautiful tribute to Ingeborg Bachmann here.) Before long, dear Inge became one of my alltime favourite writers. I read most of Inge’s short stories and novellas and loved them all. She writes incredibly beautiful prose which is also intellectually demanding. There is a novel of hers, ‘Malina‘, which I haven’t read yet, and which I’ve kept aside for a rainy day. Inge, before she started writing stories, was a poet. She was an incredibly beautiful poet. I dip into her poetry collection once in a while, and read a poem or two. I don’t want to finish reading it. This is one of my favourite poems from her collection ‘Darkness Spoken‘. I think this is the complete collection of her poetry in English. It is sad that Inge left just a very slim literary output. I wish there was more. But what she has bestowed on us, is beautiful, incredibly beautiful.

No Delicacies

Nothing pleases me anymore.

Should I
fit out a metaphor
with an almond blossom?
crucify the syntax
upon an effect of light?
Who will rack their brains
over such superfluous things –

I have learned an insight
with words
that exist
(for the lowest class)

Hunger
Shame
Tears
and
Darkness.

With unpurged tears,
with despair
(and I despair in the face of despair)
about so much misery,
the sick pay, the cost of living,
I will get by.

I don’t neglect writing,
but rather myself.
The others are able
God knows
to get by with words.
I am not my assistant.

Should I
arrest an idea, lead it off
to a bright sentence cell?
feed sight and hearing
with first-class word morsels?
analyze the libido of a vowel,
estimate the collector’s value of our consonants?

Must I
battered by hail,
with the writing cramp in this hand,
under the pressure of the three hundredth night
rip up the paper,
sweep away the scribbled word operas,
annihilating as well : I you and he she it

we you all?

(Should? The others should.)

My part, it shall be lost.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I’ll sign off with one of my favourite German writers Goethe. I love Goethe’s novels. I started reading his masterpiece ‘Faust‘ this month and it is beautiful. These lines are from the early part of the book.

Mephistopheles’ dark humour made me smile 😊 What he says also seems to mirror the extraordinary situation of our world today.

The Lord :

“Why are you telling me all this again?
Do you always come here to complain?
Could there be something good on earth that you’ve forgotten?”

Mephistopheles :

“No, Lord! I’m pleased to say it’s still completely rotten.
I feel quite sorry for their miserable plight;
When it’s as bad as that, tormenting them’s not right.”

Have you read any of these poems? Do you like German poems? Which are some of your favourites?

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I have wanted to read Cao Xueqin’sA Dream of Red Mansions‘ for a long time. I tried once but got distracted after reading 50 pages. When Di from ‘The Little White Attic’ invited a few of us for a readalong of the book, I couldn’t resist and jumped in.

A Dream of Red Mansions‘ is one of the four great Chinese classics. It is an epic novel. The translation I have by Yang Hsien-Yi and Gladys Yang runs into three volumes and a total of 1900 pages. If I finish reading it, it will be the longest book I’ve ever read, beating Vikram Seth’sA Suitable Boy‘ comfortably.

The book follows the fortunes of one family and their relatives and their near and dear ones. But the book doesn’t start like that. It starts with a goddess trying to repair a hole in the sky and using many big stones to do that. When she finishes it, one stone is left. She abandons that stone on earth. Across time over the eons, that stone becomes sentient, starts thinking and it feels depressed that it is alone and it is not able to experience the world. A Buddhist monk and a Taoist priest pass by and when they hear the stone’s story, they take pity on it and decide to place it in the middle of a human family so that it can experience worldly joy and sorrow. This is the reason why the book is sometimes also called ‘The Story of the Stone‘. What follows is the story of one family as the stone perceives it.

A Dream of Red Mansions‘ is a very classically Chinese book. If you have read a Jin Yong book, you’ll know exactly what this means. That is, there are only three things in the book. The sentences in the story describe events in the story and move it forward, or they describe the physical surroundings and set the scene, or there is conversation between characters, lots of it. There are just these three things. There are no long monologues, or philosophical musings, or exploration of the inner worlds of the characters. Sometimes there are philosophical musings which are part of a conversation, in which the characters quote classical poetry and old Chinese proverbs to make a point, but that’s it. Everything contributes to moving the story forward. So once you get into the flow of the story, the pages fly. Atleast they flew for me. But there is one thing that might slow down one’s reading pace. There are lots of detailed descriptions. If there is a party, it is described in a lot of detail. If a guest visits home, we get a primer into Chinese culture on how a guest is received and treated. If there is a funeral, there is a description of every detail and ritual. The book depicts 18th century Chinese culture in rich detail and it is probably based on the author’s own experience. It is fascinating to read. It might also be overwhelming if you are not into details.

The other thing about the book is that there are lots of characters, hundreds of them. It is sometimes hard to keep up with who’s who. Sometimes the characters’ names are so close to each other that if you are not familiar with Chinese names it can get confusing. For example, there is Chia Cheng, Chia Chen, Chia Chiang, Chia Chian. At one point, I didn’t know who was who. One way of handling this is to make a family chart and include atleast the important characters in that. Another way of doing it is to go with the flow. I decided to do that. At some point, I discovered, for example, that Chia Cheng was Baoyu’s dad and the other three Chias weren’t that important. Then there are Hsi-feng and Hsi-jen who were important characters and their names looked close to me and so could be potentially confusing. But after reading for a while, I could recognize them properly – Hsi-feng is an important daughter-in-law in the house, and Hsi-jen was Baoyu’s maid. They were two of my favourite characters and so it was easy for me to remember. One more thing that was confusing for me was that the translation I read used the Wade-Giles naming system, while I am more comfortable with the modern Pinyin system. In some cases, translation of names between Wade-Giles and Pinyin was pretty straightforward. For example Pao-Yu in Wade-Giles was Baoyu in Pinyin, Tai-Yu in Wade-Giles was Daiyu in Pinyin. But at other times it was not that straightforward – for example, Hsi-Feng in Wade-Giles was Xifeng in Pinyin, Chin Ko-Ching in Wade-Giles is Qin Keqing in Pinyin. Sometimes the names were so far apart that I couldn’t guess the Pinyin names. This posed problems when I was discussing the book with fellow readalong participants, because I had to be sure that we were discussing the same character. There was a further complication here, because in a newer translation, the translators had changed the names of some of the characters – Hsi-jen was called Aroma in that. No one, of course, can make this leap from Hsi-jen to Aroma 😁 One has to consult the Wade-Giles to Pinyin dictionary frequently to get a sense of things. I hate doing that and so I just muddled along.

A Dream of Red Mansions‘ has also been described as the love story of Baoyu and Daiyu. That is, of course, part of the book, and it is fascinating, but because it is an epic book, there cannot be just one story in it. There is Baochai who is as important a character as Daiyu and till now, it is not clear whether Baoyu likes Daiyu more or Baochai more. Both Baochai and Daiyu write beautiful poetry, but while Daiyu is deeply emotional and gets affected by the smallest happenings and bursts into tears, Baochai is more mature and more graceful. My two favourite characters till now though are Hsi-feng and Hsi-jen (or Xifeng and Xiren, if you prefer Pinyin). Hsi-feng is a strong woman who manages her relationships with her family members skillfully, takes additional responsibility when required, is tough when required. The way she handles the maids in the family is interesting to see – tough at times when they slack at work during important occasions (sometimes a bit too tough – on one occasion she gets a maid whipped for coming late, to set an example – I felt the punishment was too much and too cruel), and kind and friendly at other times during informal occasions. I am looking forward to seeing how her character arc develops. Hsi-jen is Baoyu’s maid and is almost like his best friend, governess and lover. She is the closest to the perfect character in the book – all nice and nothing bad. It is hard not to like her. I am looking forward to finding out what happens to her as the story progresses.

The book depicts Chinese culture of the 18th century in a realistic way – the good and the not-so-good together. Sometimes the not-so-good things are heartbreaking, like when someone is unhappy with a maid or a page and gets them whipped, or sometimes gets them dismissed from work. Getting dismissed was the worst thing for a maid working in a distinguished family, because it means she is disgraced and she has slid back into poverty. One of the maids in the story is so heartbroken after she gets dismissed that she commits suicide. It was heartbreaking to read.

There many beautiful scenes depicted in the story. There are frequent quarrels between Baoyu and Daiyu, and sometimes we feel that they are being silly, and at other times we feel that they are just spoilt brats from rich families who don’t realize how lucky they are. But sometimes their fights remind us of ourselves when we were young and being silly and fought with our partners or siblings or cousins and sulked for days and wasted lots of time which could have been spent in more pleasurable ways, and it makes us feel young again and we identify with our silly younger selves, and it makes us smile. Cao Xueqin captures the way young people behave towards each other quite beautifully and it is one of the wonderful parts of the book. In one of my favourite scenes, Daiyu feels heartbroken after a silly fight (or rather about something she imagined) that she composes a poem and recites it and the poem is beautiful and moving and heartbreaking and Baoyu who is hiding behind a tree, listens to it, and bursts into tears. It is such a beautiful scene. Another of my favourite scenes, or rather chapters in the story is when Baoyu’s sister tells him that they should all start a poetry or literary club, and all the young people get together and decide what they’ll do as part of the club, and they meet again and compose poetry and recite them and discuss their merits and decide whose poems are their favourites. This chapter comes out of the blue and almost feels like a digression from the main story, but it is very beautiful. Another of my favourite scenes is when Keqing is seriously ill and one day when Xifeng is deep asleep, Keqing comes in her dream and they have a beautiful conversation which is very moving. Of course, this kind of dream is almost always a dark premonition, but I won’t tell you more, you have to read the book to find out what happened next.

A Dream of Red Mansions‘ was hard reading after the first few chapters. The hundreds of characters and the rapid succession of events and the infinite number of details was overwhelming and it nearly sunk me. But halfway through the first volume, at around 300 pages, the story acquired a life of its own, it started flowing smoothly like a serene river, I wanted to turn the page and find out what happened next and what my favourite characters were up to, and then I knew that the book had started to grow on me and I’d fallen in love with it. It took some time but it was worth it.

I have finished reading the first part of ‘A Dream of Red Mansions‘ now. That is 40 chapters, 600 pages in. I’m loving it so far. Two more parts, 80 chapters, 1300 pages to go. Wish me luck 😁

Have you read ‘A Dream of Red Mansions‘? What do you think about it?

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I was doing some book browsing online a few days back and discovered this series called ‘The Theoretical Minimum‘ by Leonard Susskind (and George Hrabovsky and Art Friedman). Leonard Susskind is one of the founders of String Theory, and I am always excited when a scientist takes time off to write a book on science for the general reader.

This series covers many of the important parts of physics, the ones we are excited about, as readers and science lovers. More volumes in the series are on the way. This book series evolved from a series of lectures that Leonard Susskind gave at Stanford for normal people who were interested in physics, but who were not pursuing any program at the university.

In terms of accessibility for the general reader, the books don’t shy away from equations and look more challenging than Bill Bryson’sA Short History of Nearly Everything’ or George Gamov’s Mr.Tompkins series or Christophe Galfard’sThe Universe in Your Hand‘. But I hate to admit this – this series seems to be more accessible than my favourite scientist Roger Penrose’sThe Road to Reality‘. The authors say that the mathematics included is as simple as possible, but no simpler, so that we can appreciate the beauty of Physics through her sister Mathematics’ eyes. That is the reason the series is called ‘The Theoretical Minimum‘. It sounded very appealing to me.

Hoping to get started soon. So excited!

Sharing the pictures of the back covers to give you a feel for the books.

Which is / are your favourite books on physics / science?

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When Di from ‘The Little White Attic’ suggested to a few of us that we do a readalong of Cao Xueqin’sA Dream of Red Mansions‘, I was very excited. I have almost never seen anyone host a readalong of a Chinese classic or a week-long or a month-long reading event dedicated to Chinese classics or even Chinese literature in general, and so this made me even more excited. I have had this classic with me for many years. I got it during my Shanghai years when I used to go to the bookshops in Shanghai every weekend and buy Chinese classics. I built a small library of Chinese classics which I have dipped into occasionally and that I hope to properly read on a rainy day.

A Dream of Red Mansions‘ (or ‘Hong Lou Meng‘, as it is called in Chinese) is one of the four great Chinese epics. Some people would regard it as one of the two most important among the four, the other one being ‘Three Kingdoms‘. While ‘Three Kingdoms‘ is about war and peace and political struggle and statecraft, ‘A Dream of Red Mansions‘ is about a family. ‘A Dream of Red Mansions‘ has sometimes been compared to Leo Tolstoy’sAnna Karenina‘, because it is also about a family, it has many strong women characters, and is a tragedy, but it predates ‘Anna Karenina‘ by more than a century. There is a reason it is classified as an epic. The edition I have is in three volumes and runs to around 1900 pages – longer than ‘War and Peace‘ but shorter than ‘In Search of Lost Time‘. In China, ‘A Dream of Red Mansions‘ has legendary status and every kid knows the story and the characters, and it has been frequently adapted into TV series. But outside China, it is a classic by Mark Twain’s definition – often recommended but never read. It deserves more readers across the world.

Di said that there are no rules for the readalong – read as we please, read for however long we want, discuss the book in the way that we like, no structure, no rules, just have fun. That is the best way to read an epic and have fun, I think. I can’t wait to get started.

Sharing pictures some of the colour plates from inside – they are so beautiful.

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