Monday, September 04, 2006

Salon's Literary Guide On China

I admit's Literary Guide to the World starts with good (albeit ambitious) intentions. As Hillary Frey, Books editor at Salon wrote in her introduction:
"From Turkey to Togo, D.C. to L.A., Rio to Russia and beyond, the Guide promises to recommend the best books -- fiction, history, memoir or otherwise -- to take with you on your travels."

It's never an easy task, doing recommendations like this. Lists are often highly personalised choices, and doomed to the limitations of the people doing the selection. You will always be criticised for what you include, as well as your omissions.

But I have to bitch about the selection for China. Any list that does not include Louis Cha (or Jin Yong) in their list of great literature of China, does not understand Chinese Literature.

I happened onto the Chinese newspaper recently. In a study done on the national reading habits of the Chinese, Louis Cha ranked #1 as Best Loved Author. This is followed by Ba Jin and Lu Xun. Qiong Yao comes in at #4, but let's not go there. (My mother almost named me after a character from one of Qiong Yao's novels, so we really should not mention Qiong Yao here)

Louis Cha's novels are mainly in the wuxia (martial art) genre. The wuxia novel is rather unique to Chinese culture and I believe, the main reason why it resists translation into English, and why it's not better known among English-speaking readers. It's a pity, because in the same survey on Chinese reading habits, wuxia is the most read genre of choice amongst the Chinese.

In case you're interested, this is Nell Freudenberger's selection for Salon's Literary Guide to China:

  1. The Search for Modern China by Jonathan Spence
  2. Selected Stories by Lu Hsun
  3. Wild Swans by Jung Chang
  4. Ocean of Words by Ha Jin
  5. Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler

No comments: