NY Ghost

download.jpgIn this, the early days of the Corona Virus, a narrative of the spread from China of a fictional but deadly illness,—Shen Fever—might be just a tad too relevant.

“In its initial stages, Shen Fever is difficult to detect. Early symptoms include memory lapse, headaches, disorientation, shortness of breath, and fatigue. Because these symptoms are often mistaken for the common cold, patients are often unaware they have contracted Shen Fever. They may appear functional and are still able to execute rote, everyday tasks. However, these initial symptoms will worsen.
Later-stage symptoms include signs of malnourishment, lapse of hygiene, bruising on the skin, and impaired motor coordination. Patients’ physical movements may appear more effortful and clumsy. Eventually, Shen Fever results in a fatal loss of consciousness. ”

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Many Chopsticks But No Roof-Beam

download-1.jpgThere were many things to like about Miss Chopsticks by Xue Xinran. First, the translators notes gave a good overview of the difficulties translating Chinese into English and also an  insight into the difficulties of spoken vs. written Chinese as well as the understandable differences in the Chinese language resulting from the wide geography of the country.

That’s all technical but it also reflects the second interesting theme in the novel: the lives of rural Chinese vs. those of people living in the larger cities and towns. Xinran’s narrative makes these differences very clear and the major theme of the narrative is how the three sisters overcome these differences and adapt to the challenges for growth in the city. They go from being only chopsticks, everyday tools that are easily replaceable to being just as strong and valuable as men and boys, easily capable of holding up a roof-beam.

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The Republic of Wine

51v31QsIhrLMany novels slalom between reality, or at least a fictional reality, and fiction. Characters step out of the fiction to be a part of the reality and real personages are sucked into the fiction. Add to this the somewhat clichéd tactic of having one of the characters writing in the fictional reality when they are also a part of the fiction and their writing becomes the real fiction of the novel. But in some novels there is room for the real to leak into the fiction and the fictional to leak into the real, the fictional real, that is.

Take Mo Yan’s excellent novel, The Republic of Wine. The story starts with an investigation into rumors that babies are being eaten at banquets in Liquorland. But then a young liquor scholar is writing stories which he sends to the well-known author Mo Yan for critical evaluation and possible publication. So the story writer sends the story to a real-life person and then the story is inserted into the overall narrative: but the story is about Liquorland and it’s inhabitants and the possible eating of babies. Just to add another layer, characters in the stories themselves tell stories and all the stories assume an aspect of the fictional reality … and then it gets even more intertwined.

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Women Hold Up Half the Sky

womenI realize that until fairly recently women were viewed more as possessions than as human beings. If men were able to create life themselves, I’m sure women would still be indentured servants at best, and possibly even go the way of the passenger pigeon.

This makes sex the most primary human activity, more important even than making money.

But now that women are no longer dying young in childbirth or being raped and pillaged during border disputes and range wars (this doesn’t apply to all parts of the world), men have been forced to pay attention to women for other than pleasure and procreation. Women have become an important economic and political force in the world, even though the angry old white men in the United States are dragging their feet to recognize this fact. Many men cannot wrap their feeble little minds around the concept that women should be treated as equals.

Why is that?

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