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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Travel Diaries: The Ships

In the Honduran novel, The Ships by the Honduran author, Roberto Quesado, the protagonist, Lopez Guillermo is proud to be working on the pineapple plantation for the Standard Fruit Company despite being a city person. That is because there are not many jobs that pay well in the city.

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What he would like to do is write but he is not sure if that too will bring in the money. However, that does not stop him from always thinking about how to write about certain things that are happening around him such as when he visits the town of El Porvenir, he thinks about how to write about that town where one is greeted by headless hands. He is always thinking about how to make his writing interesting and unique even though we do not really see him writing.

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The Guest Cat

Fed up of dog related books? Are you a cat lover who is not appreciated because the world is gaga over dogs and their loyalty whereas cats are consigned to a manipulative caricature?

Well I am!!

I am a default cat lover since the time we got a pet cat quite out of pity. From then on, I have loved my own cat and cats in general to death. So when I came across the novel, The Guest Cat, by Takashi Hiraide on Amazon at a decent rate, I instantly bought it since it fed my two interests: cats and my nascent interest in Japanese literature.

Translated into English by Eric Selland, the story is a simple one about a couple who sort of adopt a cat but do not own her. It traces their relation with the cat while also commenting on other aspects of Japan.

Chibi, the cat, comes into their lives unexpectedly when they move into a small guestroom next to a bungalow in Tokyo in 1988. Chibi has her own quirky characteristics that the narrator describes at length. Chibi comes and goes freely into their modest abode, sets up a routine of staying in their house at night and leaving in the mornings to accompany her actual owners’ son to say goodbye.

Against this backdrop, the couple themselves go through their own daily lives and jobs. The woman works at a publishing house and the man quits his job at a publishing agency to write his own stories.

What stands out however is how the main focus is the cat’s quiet relationship with the couple and the house they live in. The descriptions of both Chibi and their house is poetic and academic perhaps keeping in mind the profession of the narrator.

Through these descriptions the narrator also conveys information and comments on the goings on in Japan and Tokyo, most prominently the real estate and the Emperor’s sickness and subsequent death. It is accompanied by a glossary at the end which gives good information on the Japanese references in the novel.

Another, truly unique aspect that stands out are the comparisons and references between the different emotions and moods of the narrator whether it is comparing a house hunt with Machiavelli or triangular surveying to measure distance to avoid grief!

All in all, the novel, The Guest Cat shines because of its talent to convey profound musings through the everyday. And whether you are a cat lover or not, this is a must read since the style and the writing is unique, sparse and down to earth.

Here is a link of the book on Amazon:

What Did You Expect?

No other age excelled in first person narratives than the Victorian Era and who better than Charles Dickens could be ts finest exponent? With ‘David Copperfield’, safely under his belt, he diligently set out to write one of his finest, ‘Great Expectations‘ which is very similar to the former yet also vastly different. Both have the trademark autobiographical touch in the story and follow the conventional chronological order which the later modernists despised so vehemently. Yet ‘Great Expectations‘ while following the life of Pip, also comments on the English life of that time particularly its artificiality.

The novel is about Pip, an orphan who lives with his domineering sister, Mrs. Joe Gargery and her amiable  blacksmith husband, Joe. As a child, Pip coincidentally happened to meet an escaped convict in the marshes. The latter threatened and scared Pip into bringing him victuals which Pip obediently albeit deceitfully(by stealing) brought for the convict the next day. Later on in his youth, he is regularly called on to visit a certain Miss Havisham, who is a rich, old lady stuck in the past. These visits are nothing short of eccentric and humiliating for the young Pip. Humiliating particularly due to Estella’s cruelty of reminding him often of his low class and unworthy status. Consequently, Pip too begins to perceive his situations and his relatives in a poor light, as being unrefined and plain dumb. He desperately wants to get out of such a situation and pretty soon a golden opportunity presents itself before him. Pip comes into a large chunk of wealth and is sent to London to be educated. In short all his great expectations are to come true because in short he becomes a gentleman. The twist is that his benefactor wants to remain anonymous and will only reveal him/herself as and when appropriate. Thus Pip climbs the social ladder under the illusion that his benefactor is indeed a benefactress-Miss Havishman. The revelation of the identity of his benefactor/ess leaves him stupefied in the end and changes his worldviews at that.

I believe that I am a novice to give a prolonged commentary on such a critically acclaimed classic. All I can state is that ‘Great Expectations‘ met all my expectations of reading an engaging Dickens’ novel. The plot is punctuated with the quintessential Dickensian characters-the hypocrite Pumblechook, the warm hearted Joe who is Pip’s best friend, the patient Biddy, bipolar Wemmick, ever the optimist Herbert who is Pip’s closest friend-  and scores of others that make the entire story come alive. Coupled with Dickens’ famous biting humour and satire, ‘Great Expectations‘ is a lighthearted novel that makes you laugh in the most serious scenes and other such unlikely places.

The one fault was the sensationalism of ‘Great Expectations.’ Of course, this was in keeping with the norm of serialization of novels during that time which compelled the writers to keep each episode exciting and melodramatic. Moreover, Dickens himself was strongly influenced by the sensationalist movement that emerged in the 1860s’. These two reasons account for the dramatic tone of the novel. Though legitimate reasons in themselves, it is quite incongruous to read a style that only startles and shocks. In the India of today where sensationalism is a the norm, subtlety is much appreciated. But barring the sensationalist factor of the novel, ‘Great Expectations‘, is wholesome and is sure to entertain, tickle your funny bone and even compel you to examine your own position(as the novel makes Pip examine at every turn of the story) in a class and status obsessed society of today.