James and the Giant Peach

I picked up a Roald Dahl book, James and the Giant Peach, after what seems like an eternity. And I only did it because it seamlessly became part of the October Yellow Book Cover Month. And what an absolute delight the book was! Not since reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory have I read a Dahl book and this one was equally quirky and fun. It felt like going back to my childhood. What a fun, childlike and nostalgic read it was!

So what is James and the Giant Peach about?

It is about the eponymous James who had an absolutely terrific life living by the sea with his parents but in an unfortunate yet bizarre incident, (getting eaten by a pair of rhinoceros, no less) his parents die and now James has to live with his terrible aunts, Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker. They treat him poorly, making him constantly do chores, starving, abusing and punishing him. Worse still, they live on top of a hill, far away from his beloved sea and his dastardly aunts do not allow him to go down this isolated hill and meet or play with other children. And that is the worst kind of treatment any child can be given – to cut a child off from other kids his age is nothing short of abuse and exploitation.

One fine day, James comes across a rather strange man in the garden. The man hands him tiny yet colourful beans and gives precise instructions on how to use them. But as luck would have it, James slips and the beans scatter about and he is too slow in retrieving them.

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Quick Reviews: Shanghai Baby

Shanghai Baby by the Chinese writer, Wei Hui, has been translated into English by Bruce Humes. The novel is set in the turn of the 21st century in Shanghai, China.

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What is the book about?

Shanghai Baby unravels a story about Coco, living in Shanghai, who wants to be a writer and who eventually drops her waitress job, when she meets the artist Tian Tian, at the same cafe. After a little encouragement from him, she decides to pursue writing a novel full time. She had already published an erotic and daring collection of short stories titled, Shriek of the Butterfly, and was working at a magazine before. What prompted her to leave that job and become a waitress is not explored. What is explored, however, is her relationship with her city, with her parents, with Tian Tian, who is a drug addict and impotent; and her lover, Mark, a German expat, working there and the one who satisfies her sexual desires.

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To Live

When the protagonist, Fugui, loses all his money and property because of his addictive gambling right at the beginning of the novel, To Live by Yu Hua (translated by Michael Berry) , we know that it will not be a typical hero who succeeds in all his endeavors.

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What is the book about? 

After squandering all his family’s wealth that was accumulated over a long period of time, Fugui is consigned to a small piece of land on the outskirts of his village. Not able to take the shock of Fugui’s mistake, his father soon dies while he is left to take care of his wife, mother and daughter, Fengxia.

Thus, from being a landowner’s whoring and gambling son, he becomes a mere peasant. The whole family now struggles to survive.

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The Crazed

The Crazed by Ha Jin is told from the point of view of the student, Jian, who is under the guidance of Mr. Yang. But the novel starts with Mr Yang having suffered from a stroke and in the hospital in 1989.

WARNING: Spoilers Ahead! 

Mr. Yang’s crazy outbursts while in hospital give a glimpse into his relationship with his student, Jian, as well as his past: affairs, his ill treatment under the Mao regime, his unconscious desire to have been a well respected official along with being a scholar among other things.

What is so interesting about The Crazed are the several literary references that pepper the novel, particularly Mr Yang’s lectures even in that delirious state about random literary subjects such as why Western poets use a persona to speak in their poems whereas the Chinese poets speak as themselves in the poems or his references to poets such as Goethe, Dante and several Tang poets like Tu Fu or Li Po.

It was astonishing how in that state he goes from “a political parrot” as Jian calls him, spewing Communist jingles to a lecture spewing professor.

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Red Sorghum

The opening of Mo Yan’s Red Sorghum – a child of fifteen setting out to join his foster father’s mission to ambush the Japanese – sets the tone for the rest of the novel: not only violent but intensely detailed violence.

Within that violence is embedded the story of three generations of a Chinese family that lived before and through the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Cultural Revolution up to the 1970s.
The part which is most emphasised on is the first one: the life of the family before and through the Second Sino-Japanese War.

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