Friday, August 05, 2011

Have read, am reading, shall read

I thought Life of Pi would be a Picaresque; but in truth I think it was not. It was a strange book, a realistic myth, about a boy floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with a tiger. At first, for precisely the first hundred pages in fact, I was slightly bored. However, this turned out to be the necessary background to the story, the set-up, I suppose, which made the rest of the story seem quite true. After that the story became absorbing and at the same time convincing, and I read quickly. I especially enjoyed the island sequence, and find it is this that lingers with me because it was so wonderfully weird. However, the part that really made the book for me was the ending. It took an already excellent book one stage further up the scale - to where it now occupies the 'outstandingly excellent' niche. It reminded me a little of Gulliver's Travels. However, it is not a picaresque, because a picaresque involves a lovable rogue visiting lots of different places, and Life of Pi did not contain either of these.

In contrast I read Life Along the Silk Road by Susan Whitworth. This, I thought, was fiction - but I was wrong again. The very interesting tales were based on historical events and artifacts found along the Silk Road, and it read very much like biographical non-fiction or history. Although each tale is based on the information of various individuals and combined, Susan Whitworth brought it altogether skilfully, and I learnt a lot about the people that lived along the Silk Road; it was an appealing way to do so.

Finally, I read another travelogue: Shadow of the Silk Road by Colin Thubron. Colin Thubron's writing reminded me of W.G. Sebald's. It was personal, moving, imaginative, and above all lyrically beautiful. It took me a long time to read, because as I did so it set me thinking about my own experiences in China, and it also enticed me to the internet to find out more about places and subjects mentioned. As well as writing travelogues, Colin Thubron has written novels too, and I'd like to read them one day.

The only Silk Road book left on my pile now is Monkey by Wu Ch'êng-ên which I am intending to read just as soon as I have finished reading the T'ang section of poetry and prose in my Anthology of Chinese Literature which came this morning, and I have started already. And then, after that, I intend to go on to a proper picaresque: Güneli Gün's On the Road to Baghdad as recommended by Anne S.

And then, waiting in the wings (or rather in another pile on my study floor), there are these...(by the end of the month I hope to have read at least some of them).


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